Uchiyama Roshi

‘Sometimes I imagine myself being sent to prison. I don’t know what society will be like in the future. If a leader like Hitler, Stalin or Mao Tse-Tund gained control, I could be sent to prison if the authorities were to find some fault with me.
I read somewhere, “To imprison a minority is to set a majority at ease with the thought, ‘I am not as bad as they are.'” I doubt that only the people in prison are bad. Personally, when I sincerely evaluate my life and expose myself to the absolute light of religion, I can’t help thinking that I will doubtless go to hell because of my absurd conduct. Do I have any excuses? No! In the absolute world I don’t have a single excuse. In a sutra it is said, “If you wish to repent, sit properly [in zazen posture] and see the real form.”
I always despair of myself. But I make it a rule to do zazen, telling myself that it is only the despair of an ordinary person. Can you see that despair is nutrition for the Absolute?’ (The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo)

Teijo Munnich

‘In order to awaken to the truth of life and reality, we first have to become free of our self-imposed restrictions, the delusions which cause us to adhere to the belief that there is something to depend upon that is lasting and that our life is in some way unique. Recognizing impermanence, we are aware of the infinite possibilities that are always present in life, rather than being stuck in our perceptions of what is possible. Being aware of interconnectedness, we naturally experience the support of everything in life. That is what we awaken to and return to in zazen. And this is called jijuyu zanmai.’ (Receiving the Marrow)

Jijuyu zanmai is not an easy thing to translate. When I was first at Zen Center, we titled the chant that was excerpted from Dogen’s Bendowa as Self-fulfilling Samadhi. This became Self-Receiving and -Employing Samadhi in the consensus version of the chant book, but that still doesn’t make it comprehensible to most people. Recently I have been calling it a virtuous feedback loop, whereby our zazen, our practice-enlightenment, informs and benefits the universe, and the universe informs and benefits our zazen and our practice-enlightenment. Teijo Munnich, in her commentary on the Bendowa, speaks of it as ‘Samadhi of Self receiving or accepting its function’ – and the paragraph I have quoted demonstrates how we do this.

Shohaku Okumura

‘When we sit in this way we cannot say, “Now I am one with the universe, actualizing the true self beyond space and time.” Of course if we think this, we are just thinking about zazen rather than actualizing it. So our sitting is really nothing special; rather than thinking that we are actualizing enlightenment, we just sit wholehertedly moment by moment. And yet in this simple sitting practice we go beyond out limited individuality as the Buddha Dharma is realized.’ (Realizing  Genjokoan)

Back Home

By the time this is published, I will probably be wandering around London in a state of jet-lag, with hopefully enough energy to go to see Brad Warner speak at the Wimbledon Zen group this evening. I will be back there to speak about Dogen myself on Saturday, focusing on the Tenzokyokun. In between, I will be down in Brighton visiting one of my old BBC friends, and stopping in at the Thursday evening sitting there. Next week I will be roaming all over the country, visiting family in Suffolk, Hereford and Cornwall, as well as Hebden Bridge and Glastonbury for some zen visits. If I had known I was going to be so busy, I would have booked a longer trip…

I have loaded up sufficient posts to cover me until I am back in San Francisco (and pictures), but if time allows, and I can stand the vagaries of typing on the touch screen of my iPad, I may interject with some stories.

City or country, I look forward to familiar landscapes


‘I study painting. In the beginning I used only one color to paint the sky blue. My teacher, Mr. Partington, complained, “Are you painting the sky?” “Yes, I am.” “Then paint the sky, don’t just spread paint on the canvas.” When we look at the sky, every minute the color is changing. Even as I turned to mix blue to match the sky, the sky had changed. I am sure you understand this.
This knack of seeing shades of color can be applied to seeing human life. If you say someone is bad, or someone is good, it is like saying the sky is blue – nothing can be accurate in your thinking. “Good” and “bad” are names. We look at everything with these names, and we always think about everything with these names. This is a naive and inaccurate way of thinking. Because your mother said “bad”, it is bad; because your father said “good”, it is good. And you teach this to your children and never think about it. Your brain doesn’t work until you get into some real predicament. Then you must think about it yourself, and you must make a judgment yourself…
When your discernment becomes accurate, you will not make this mistake; you will know. When you come to life, you know death. When you know light, you understand shadow.’ (The Zen Eye)

I have quoted from Sokei-An a couple of times before. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the clarity of this generation of teachers, from the mid-twentieth century, is not eclipsed by the greater familiarity we now have with what they were first bringing to our attention.

Sunday Poem

The hawk sweeps across the mountain sky – effortless.
Hearts quicken – as One.

– Myogen Steve Stücky

This was also inscribed on my rakusu.
Perhaps he was thinking of this photo, which I may have shown him during that practice period.

Flag Rock hike - hawk 2015 version copy


‘Endeavor wholeheartedly to follow the path of earlier sages. You may have to climb mountains and cross oceans when you look for a teacher to inquire about the way. Look for a teacher and search for understanding with all-encompassing effort, as if you were coming down from heaven or emerging from the ground. When you encounter a true teacher, you invoke sentient beings as well as insentient beings. You hear with the body, you hear with the mind.’ (Shobogenzo Keisei Sanshiki – Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors)

Marian Mountain

‘On one occasion I became very angry with Suzuki Roshi. The situation which ignited my anger is not important. It is enough to say that Roshi had made an administrative decision which I felt was completely wrong. I knew that if I allowed the matter to go unchallenged I would lose my respect for myself. This was during the period when I was living in my old hometown. One day I asked Roshi if I could speak with him privately. The two of us sat down, and I told Roshi exactly how I felt about his decision. I am the kind of person who doesn’t get angry very often, but when I do, the fire of anger burns hot. Roshi listened to my entire outburst without interrupting me. It took about twenty minutes. When all my feeling had been expressed completely, he said very quietly, “Thank you very much.” My respect for my teacher (right or wrong) increased immeasurably after this lesson. From that time on I realized the importance of cultivating the most effective emotional fire fighting tool of all – the cooling compassion of mature Zen Buddhism.’ (The Zen Environment)

As so often in this book, the lesson given is a subtle and important one.

Suzuki Roshi

‘You may think that if there is no purpose or no goal in our practice, we will not know what to do. But there is a way. The way to practice without having any goal is to limit your activity, or to be concentrated on what you are doing in this moment. Instead of having some particular object in mind, you should limit your activity. When your mind is wandering about elsewhere you have no chance to express yourself. But if you limit your activity to what you can do just now, in this moment, then you can express fully your true nature, which is the universal Buddha nature. This is our way.
When we practice zazen we limit our activity to the smallest extent. Just keeping the right posture and being concentrated on sitting is how we express the universal nature. Then we become Buddha, and we express Buddha nature. So instead of having some object of worship, we just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment. When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat. If you do this, the universal nature is there.’ (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

This to me is a quintessential passage of Suzuki Roshi’s teaching. Unless my memory is getting faultier, it was the passage I chose for discussion in the first Young Urban Zen meeting back in 2011; I thought it would be helpful to start from a place of letting go of attainment. Perhaps it was.

Shundo Aoyama

‘Zen Master Genshu Watanabe in his last years called to his bedside a monk who had recently become a disciple. The master asked, “How can one go straight on a steep mountain road of ninety-nine curves?” When the young disciple replied, “I don’t know,” he was told, “Walk straight by winding along.”
When told to walk straight, we stupidly think we have to cross mountains, hills, rivers, and the sea in a straight line. Ignoring traffic lights, we dash off like a race car, looking neither left nor right. But we only deceive ourselves into thinking we progress as we lurch forward. Instead, “Go straight by winding along.”‘ (Zen Seeds)