Suzuki Roshi

‘Usually, when you do something, you want to achieve something, you attach to some result. From achievement to non-achievement means to be rid of the unnecessary and bad results of effort. If you do something in the spirit of non-achievement, there is good quality in it. So just to do something without any particular effort is enough. When you make some special effort to achieve something, some excessive quality, some extra element is involved in it. You should get rid of excessive things. If your practice is good, without being aware of it you will become proud of your practice. That pride is extra. What you do is good, but something more is added to it. So you should get rid of that thing which is extra. This point is very, very important, but usually we are not subtle enough to realize it, and we go in the wrong direction.’ (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

This paragraph illuminates for me what I was saying about Lou yesterday.

Blanche Hartman

‘People have talked to me about how much they appreciated Lou, my late husband. My response has been, If you appreciated Lou, what were the qualities that you appreciated? Can you bring those qualities alive in yourself? If you enjoyed his humor, can you find your own humor and bring it out? If you enjoyed his kindness, can you cultivate your own kindness and bring it out? When you find that you appreciate someone, look into what is it that you like so much about that person. “Oh, I wonder if I could be like that. That’s pretty nice.”‘ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)

I appreciated Lou’s absolute commitment to living in sangha, and showing people how it was possible to do things mindfully, correctly, and whole-heartedly, without – at least in my case – making them feel that the effort they had been making was not good enough.

Radical Dharma

‘Our inability as a nation to honor the theft of these lands and the building of wealth, power, and privilege on the countless backs and graves of Black people is our most significant obstacle to being at peace with ourselves, thus with the world. The Buddhist community is a mirror image of this deep internal conflict that arises out of a persistent resistance to playing its appropriate social role even as we have available to us rigorous teachings to the contrary. This is a clarifying moment about who we are as individuals but also who we have been thus far as a collective of people laying claim to the teachings of the Buddha, waving the flag of wisdom and compassion all the while.
As demographics shift, ushering in increasingly racially diverse pools of seekers, this reluctance promises to be our undoing. We simply cannot engage with either the ills or promises of society if we continue to turn a blind eye to the egregious and willful ignorance that enables us to still not “get it” in so many ways. It is by no means of our making, but given the culture we are emerging from and immersed in, we are responsible.
White folks’ particular reluctance to acknowledge impact as a collective while continuing to benefit from the constructs of the collective leaves a wound intact without a dressing. The air needed to breathe through forgiveness is smothered. Healing is suspended for all. Truth is necessary for reconciliation’ – Rev angel Kyodo williams

It is hard to pull short sections from this book, as so much of it flows as a corruscating but loving narrative. If the words seem a little challenging, then allow yourself to be challenged and see how it feels.
It was interesting to read these sections from the beginning of the book at the same time as I read this deceptively folksy essay in the New Yorker, which sheds light  – much of it unknown to me – on what that history of impact has looked like. You might also try this wonderful reflection on how these issues have played out over the past few decades.


The poetry of spam

Occasionally I will delve into the WordPress admin pages associated with this blog. I was trying to the other day to see if there was a way to block spam followers as there is on Tumblr, and came across this spam comment – sent twice:

Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is is missing a few factors, for one you do not use all three H tags in your post, also I notice that you are not using bold or italics properly in your SEO optimization. On-Page SEO means more now than ever since the new Google update: Panda. No longer are backlinks and simply pinging or sending out a RSS feed the key to getting Google PageRank or Alexa Rankings, You now NEED On-Page SEO. So what is good On-Page SEO?First your keyword must appear in the title.Then it must appear in the URL.You have to optimize your keyword and make sure that it has a nice keyword density of 3-5% in your article with relevant LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing). Then you should spread all H1,H2,H3 tags in your article.Your Keyword should appear in your first paragraph and in the last sentence of the page. You should have relevant usage of Bold and italics of your keyword.There should be one internal link to a page on your blog and you should have one image with an alt tag that has your keyword….wait there’s even more Now what if i told you there was a simple WordPress plugin that does all the On-Page SEO, and automatically for you? That’s right AUTOMATICALLY, just watch this 4minute video for more information at…

There are several choice English words I could use at this juncture. Friends have also sometimes encouraged me to optimise this blog’s exposure, as part of building my brand and my network. I know some of the tricks I could use. Frankly, I am not interested. Promoting myself is not something I am that fond of doing, though these days it is something of a necessity; sharing pieces of dharma that I enjoy and find inspiring, and adding whatever comments and observations seem fitting is as much ambition as I have for this blog. If I was simply going to court popularity, it seems I should stick to posting poems: yesterday’s verse had six likes before I had got out of bed, though, according to WordPress, no page views…

I was lucky enough to be able to meet with Shohaku Okumura at Tassajara last summer; I have spoken with him a few times over the years, the previous occasion I think was before I was ordained as a priest and asking him about that. This time I wanted his advice on being in the marketplace. What I remember most clearly is him saying that I should always try to do things for the benefit of the dharma,and not for the benefit of myself. This is want to optimise, not latent semantic indexing.


Would you know a simile for life and death?
Compare them then to water and ice.
Water binds together to become ice;
Ice melts and turns back into water.
What has died must live again,
What has been born shall return to death.
Water and ice do no harm to each other;
Life and death are both of them good.

What I think about when I am riding

I would say it has not been the best week, on a local or global level. On Wednesday evening, two cyclists were killed in San Francisco in separate incidents involving reckless driving. The following day, a majority of people in my home country stuck two fingers up (the slightly milder British version of the middle finger) at politicians who have generally disregarded them for years, as well as at the rest of the continent, and, really, the rest of the world.
I was surprised how reading about the vote gave me such a sinking feeling. Perhaps it was a sense of how long this is going to take to unfold enough to be able to see what the consequences actually look like. Reading about the deaths gave me a sinking feeling on a more immediate level, knowing that there is little one can do in those circumstances if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Since my Friday morning was unusually free, I went out to ride again. In the city some fog was lingering; the closer I got to the bridge, the thicker it was. If I lived in the Presidio, and did not think to go elsewhere, I can imagine how easy it would be to imagine that the fog went on forever. Once across the bridge, the blue sky seemed almost endless, until I was back down by the ocean at Stinson Beach, where it was rising delicately off the lagoon. Once again, though, I climbed out of it on the Bolinas-Fairfax Road, and up on Tam, the breeze felt very warm. I fell in with a couple of riders on the seven sisters; since one of them turned out to be English, we had a little mither at the turn of events, and then we set off down the mountain at our own speeds.
I was never much of a daredevil at the best of times; now I am even more cautious. I still try to take descents skilfully, and have learnt that, though it may seem contradictory, relaxing around corners can help navigate them more smoothly.
Then, at Four Corners above Muir Woods, I was turning left off the Panoramic, where there is no stop, and I had a clear road, only to almost collide with a person who had turned out of the line of people waiting at the stop to drive up the opposite lane to make a left turn. I met him with a volley of swear words, but decided against chasing him down to ask what on earth he had been thinking. One of the waiting drivers commiserated, and I went even more carefully the rest of the way home.

Michael Stone

‘We allow our lives to be dominated by the assumption that life is a mystery that must be uncovered. Why do we feel that the answer to the great questions of life can only be accessed by looking into some secret chamber?… Letting go in meditation practice shows us how we’ve traded in all of these mysteries for explanations and concepts that don’t always give life meaning an value.’ (Awake in the World)

What I think about when I am riding

In San Francisco, the solstice does not seem quite as notable as it does in my more northerly native land, where the longest days are indeed long – though I imagine the current wet weather back in England is not going to stir many thoughts of lazing outside on lovely mid-summer evenings. On Monday, as I had last week, I took off early for a short ride, this time my usual loop around the Marin Headlands. I saw other early riders, some happy photographers, runners, a tiny rabbit, a giant spider’s web, a lone quail by the roadside, and of course the incomparable views of the bridge and the city surrounded by mountain and water. It seemed a long way from a typical Monday morning rush-hour commute. Even drivers speeding through Golden Gate Park on my way back did not dampen my joyful mood. My legs felt good when I was making an effort, and the sunny warmth felt relaxing.

The other day I followed a link to a meditation website, and was struck at the images they were using – I don’t  wish to single them out, and this musing is really a continuation of what I wrote about a few weeks ago. Here is a screenshot of the front page:

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 11.41.07.png

The other pictures on the right are also of the kind of nature scenes we typically find relaxing, and my first thought was, well most of us don’t live in places like that (somewhat ironic considering I was just back from Tassajara). I get that no-one would ever illustrate their meditation app with a frantic city scene, and yet for most of us, that is our common experience. I also reflected on how I have been taking people to find the quiet places in San Francisco for Roaming Zen, and on the quote I used recently. I do believe that people need to get away, to be immersed in nature as an essential reminder of what it means to be a human in the world, but our practice is not going to be very vital if it depends on stillness and wide-open scenery.  In this sense, meditation at City Center was always a valuable experience; there was always some kind of noise outside – of course even at Tassajara, it is possible to get irritated by the morning chorus of blue jays squawking over their breakfasts.

My favourite zen equation these days is ‘equanimity = resilience + flexibility’. Equanimity is not just setting up blissful ease by listening to waves lapping on a lake shore, but being equally okay listening to the roaring of the garbage trucks. My ride on Monday was joyful, but I will also ride on cold days, wet days, days when my legs feel heavy and riding up a hill is an effort; at a certain point, we need to be able to integrate everything into our practice, and not simply set up boundaries of what we can manage and not manage, what is ‘peaceful retreat’ and what is ‘the rest of our life’.



Roaming Zen

This Saturday sees the last in the first season of Roaming Zen. I have been very grateful for all the support I have received, from those who have attended and those who haven’t, and I will certainly offer this again in the future; I have some dates between September and November lined up to take advantage of the late summer we can usually expect in San Francisco. It was nice to see another list from SFist – after the one on good bicycle rides – enumerating the ‘best’ hills in the city: we have covered five of them already in Roaming Zen, and the others are definitely on my list of future locations.
The final outing in this series will be around Mount Sutro (not on the list, perhaps for the lack of clear views), whose woods I discovered when I started running in the city a couple of years ago, and to which I return regularly with great pleasure – even though last week when I was out there I managed to trip over a rock (my mind having just wandered to the next day’s fixtures in the Euro 2016 football tournament), which left me a little winded and scratched up. I hope you will join me in mindfully roaming the slopes.

Mt Sutro woods 5 copy

On Sunday, which was a beautiful day for which I decided I did not need to be out on a bike, I took off early and, after a bus ride, walked across the Presidio from east to west so that I could spend some time at the beach before it got too crowded. The route took me along the trails we took in the first and third roam, so this is some of the landscape we covered then:

A tangle of trees off West Pacific Avenue

Looking over the Tennessee Hollow watershed – Angel Island is in the distance

The view of Mount Sutro from the Lobos Creek trail

Through the trees by Lobos Creek, quiet and cool in the shade

A gap in the trees

Baker Beach is pretty quiet in the morning

The sand ladder at Baker Beach

ps: if you are interested, I am going to send out a short survey to my Roaming Zen mailing list for help in scheduling. You can take it here.


‘Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we; we in the future shall be buddhas and ancestors. Revering buddhas and ancestors, we are one buddha and one ancestor; awakening bodhi-mind, we are one bodhi-mind. Because they extend their compassion to us freely and without limit, we are able to attain buddhahood and let go of the attainment.’ (Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon)

The Eihei Koso is a chant that is often used for short lunch-time services and quite easy to memorise. It is taken from the Keisei Sanshiki fascicle that I have been quoting from recently, and it was good to think about it again. The idea that we are the same as buddhas and ancestors probably doesn’t sit so easily. I remember how Blanche told of how she used to dismiss Suzuki Roshi’s affirmation of everyone as buddha by thinking to herself, well, he doesn’t mean me – I’m not good enough.
Understanding that this is indeed the case does not mean we have impunity from our unskillful actions – and as usual, I lean towards an instinctual, felt understanding rather than an intellectual one. It seems that this point always needs to be underlined, as we (or other, more sceptical people) can easily make the connection that if we think we are buddha, then everything we do must be correct (Brad Warner had a good reflection on this recently).
As I was reflecting on this prior to posting, it dawned on me that it is no accident that the lines quoted above are surrounded by sentences on confession and repentance – language that sometimes makes people uncomfortable from their use in other religious traditions. In this case Dogen underlines that the essential request of practice is not to pretend that we don’t get things wrong to keep trying, to keep investigating, and to acknowledge fully when we fall short.