Going Places

Often when I give zazen instruction, I end up saying something about airports. The gist of this is that we start by meditating on a cushion, then we include walking meditation, and circle out so that we can eventually find the feeling of zazen in our work and in other parts of our lives. Then we can sit and act peacefully wherever we are.

Airports typify a modern kind of purgatory: being somewhere you don’t especially want to be, surrounded by people you haven’t chosen to be around, and waiting to get into a tiny metal tube that hopefully won’t kill you, but will leave you feeling dehydrated, stressed and tired. Typically the flights I take are international, so, assuming that the security line has not been its own kind of hell realm (looking at you, JFK, though SFO can be daunting as well), I have a couple of hours to kill. Since I am about to spend up to ten hours in a narrow seat, I usually find I don’t want to sit down at the gate, even if most people take that option.
What better place or time to do some meditation? Instead of feeling like you are just in a transitional space, and that you are just waiting to be somewhere else, why not be fully present where you are? It works for me every time – well, perhaps not at JFK, but I was also feeling pretty sick that day…

Partly this post was prompted by a conversation with a friend back in England. We had been musing on my sense of home (in case you haven’t picked this up yet, that usually means England, and especially Cornwall), their response was ‘I have my own moments of intense restlessness and find I’m most at home in an airport departure lounge.’ Then I came across this snippet of dialogue, from perhaps the first shosan  ceremony at Tassajara, which of course I forwarded.

‘Student: Dōchō-rōshi, I have two questions.  Where is home?  What is true strength?

Suzuki-rōshi: When you start wandering about there is no home, there is no strength.  But if you find your home in this moment at this place, you have enough strength to practice our way.  And home is right here.’

Waiting at Heathrow for the plane back, a couple of weeks ago.

SFO has at least some air of tranquility – a shot from a few years ago.

Ssu Dongpo

The sounds of the valley are his long broad tongue
The colours of the mountains are none other than his pure body.
Through the night, I hear the eighty-four thousand verses.
In the morning, how can I tell them to others?

I am rather surprised that I have not used this poem yet, as it is one of my favourites, and also very well known. Reading the Shobogenzo Keisei Sanshiki brought it back to mind the other day.

Arroyo Seco hike - gorge 4
Of course I think of Tassajara – this is the gorge by the Horse Bridge on the Arroyo Seco

Sawaki Roshi

‘Those who don’t see distinctions are fools. Those who are always anxious about distinctions are mediocre people.’ (The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo)

Blanche Hartman

‘Even today, as we consciously make an effort to live a life of no harm, we discover that we cannot literally follow the first precept of not killing. We must either starve ourselves or eat food that has been alive. Even if we are strict vegetarians, the life of living beings can only be supported by food that itself been alive.
The important thing for us, then, is to remain aware of our intrinsic connection with all beings, and to continuously cultivate our capacity for the beneficial mental states of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. How we actually live this precious live we have been given is the most important point. Although we may fervently wish to end all pain in the world, as many before us have wished, the best we may be able to do is not to add to it. If we add judgment and anger to the situation, it can only increase the suffering.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)

The Blue Cliff Record

‘Jade is tested with water; gold is tested with stone; a sword is tested with a hair; water is tested with a staff. In the school of patch-robe monks, with each word, each phrase, each act, each state, each exit, each entry, each greeting, each response, you need to see the shallow and the deep, you need to see whether someone is facing forward or backward.’

For any time someone asks what the ‘zen’ way is.

Roaming Zen

All year I have been trying to figure out how to get Mount Davidson into a Roaming Zen. I have even run up it a couple of times since getting back from England as I try to envisage ways to connect it with other interesting places nearby. On Sunday I concluded that trying to combine it with Grand View Park was going to be too ambitious, but I did discover some other new-to-me corners, one of which will be incorporated, the other (which appeared to be an unreconstructed sand dune by 14th and Rivera) might be a little challenging to hike.
This is going to be the last scheduled hike of the season, with the bicycle version to come, weather permitting, but since I keep coming across places I want to offer roams in, I had an idea. A small group of us on the last roam were on the bluffs above the Golden Gate Bridge, and we were all rather drawn by a trail that dropped down from the heights almost to the water and back again, presumably connecting with Baker Beach a little further along. It was too much of a detour to be able to add in on the day, but it seems a shame to wait for the spring to get a chance to explore it. And there are many other places I still have on my to-go-to list.
So, if the winter has some dry spells in it and the forecast seems reliable, I plan to organise some semi-spontaneous roams, sending word out mid-week for a weekend event. Stay tuned. And in any case, this coming Saturday, 1:30pm, starting at West Portal Muni station.

On Saturday’s roam we got to see the bridge from many different angles, and also came across an art installation in the batteries.

I enjoyed the trees in the Presidio – thanks to Darine for the photographs.

Chögyam Trungpa

‘I think if any of us had seen [Buddha] or heard him talk, it would not have been anything like a lecture as we know it. It was just simple conversation. It was not the talking that was important but the whole situation that he created; it was not because he had achieved such spiritual power and thereby dominated the whole scene, but because he was simply being true – just as any of us could be.’ (Meditation in Action)


‘Mature or not, it’s all a matter of long-term practice. One should progress in study as much as possible according to the teacher’s method. The same is true of the vows of students of the Way; although incapable at first, eventually they’ll succeed. Even if temporarily discouraged by obstructions caused by ingrained habits, if you can keep your vows in mind you will return to your original mind before long.
For this reason, those who are basically lazy ought to rely on these vows all the more; those who are dull and ignorant ought to rely on these vows all the more. Those whose perception of nature is clear ought to rely on these vows all the more; those whose intellectual functions are independent ought to rely on these vows all the more.’ (The Undying Lamp of Zen)

I don’t remember where I picked up this book – perhaps someone gave it to me – but I have been enjoying reading it on my commute. I had just read this passage, and was reflecting on my own laziness, when the train came out of the darkness of the trans-bay tunnel into a day with high scattered clouds, a sheltering sky benevolent over the dockside rail tracks, and I laughed deep inside and forgot what I was worried about.


The pure wind circles the earth and shakes it time after time,
But who can pluck it up and show it to you? – Denkoroku

Uchiyama Roshi

‘To fall in love is ecstasy, but marriage is everyday life. Everyday life has rainy days, windy days, and stormy days. So you can’t always be happy. It’s the same with zazen. There are two kinds of zazen transmitted in Japan. One understands zazen as ecstasy and the other understands zazen as everyday life.
A basic concept in Buddhism is that subject and object are one. The significance of this depends on whether you interpret the samadhi of oneness as a psychological condition of ecstasy that mystically transcends the limits of the “everyday mind” or whether you actually practice it in your daily life. Those who hold the former view often express the samadhi of oneness through art and literature. The sensitive viewer or reader is allowed a glimpse of ecstasy. The Zen that D.T. Suzuki and other writers have presented to the world is of this sort. However, the zazen that has been handed down from Dogen Zenji to Sawaki Roshi is the actual foundation of the religious life. It is the practice of continuous awareness in the midst of delusion, without attachment to delusion or enlightenment. As Shinran said, “Although I don’t know at all whether I’ll go to hell or heaven by nembutsu, I just do it.” This is the zazen in which you don’t get to think about whether you will go to heaven or get enlightened. Religious practice is not something to make a show of and it is not merely a form of intellectual appreciation. It is the self fervently making the self into the self. In life, there are rainy days, windy days, and stormy days, but whatever happens, just settle yourself in zazen.’ (The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo)

If you want a different version of this, try Brad Warner’s.