Danxia Tianran

‘Each of you here has a place to put your cushion and sit. Why do you suspect you need something else? Is Zen something that you can explain? Is a buddha something that you can become? I don’t want to hear a single word about Buddhism.
All of you, look and see! Skillful means and expedience, the unlimited mind of benevolence, compassion, joy, and detachment – these things aren’t received from someplace else. Not an inch of these things is evident. Skillful means is Manjushri Bodhisattva. Expedience is Samantabhadra Bodhisattva. Do you still want to go seeking after something? Don’t go using the Buddhist scriptures to look for emptiness!
These days Zen students are all in a tizzy, practicing Zen and asking about Tao. I don’t have any Dharma for you to practice here! And there isn’t any doctrine to be confirmed. Just eat and drink. Everyone can do that. Don’t harbor doubt. It’s the same everyplace!
Just recognize that Shakyamuni was an ordinary old fellow. You must see for yourself. Don’t spend your life trying to win some competitive trophy, blindly misleading other blind people, all of you marching right into hell, floundering in duality! I’ve nothing more to say. Take care!’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

To this I can only add: Ha!

Uchiyama Roshi

‘What is the most important thing in life? A lot of people would reply, “Money!” But money isn’t the most important thing for us. First of all it’s air; then, water, temperature, light, food, etc. Money is further down the list. Since our country is blessed with air and water, we Japanese completely forget the value of air and water. Moreover, this air and water must be pure, without odor or taste. They must be things in which there is nothing in particular. This “nothing in particular” is so natural, that we don’t realize that is is the most important thing in life.’  (The Zen Teaching of “Homeless” Kodo)

Although he does not say it in this paragraph, basically, he is talking about zazen.

The Beginning of Spring

The blossoms started coming out in San Francisco in spite of last week’s rain, or perhaps because of the milder temperatures that accompanied it; this early flowering is a perennial California joy for me.
The last of the rain blew through on Friday morning, and once it had gone, the blue skies that followed seemed to bring a certain peacefulness. I was on my way to Wilbur again, and it was set to be a different forecast to the previous visit.
Whenever I go to Tassajara, there are a few ‘gates’ that I pass on the journey, letting me know where I am and where I am going, transitioning from city speeds to the pace of the monastery: coming down Laureles Grade with a view of Carmel Valley; cresting the small rise on the Carmel Valley Road just before the Tassajara Road turning; and the final and most significant, arriving at the southern ridge on the Tassajara Road with its long view south over the wilderness as the five-mile descent to the monastery begins.
The journey to Wilbur has several similar thresholds: crossing the Carquinez Bridge, which means leaving the east bay behind and broaching the north bay; turning off the 80, which usually signifies the end of the heavy traffic, even if the vehicle which is kindly being lent to me is not capable of exploiting the 70mph speed limit on the straight shot north on the 505; turning onto the 16, for the sumptuous Capay Valley, which was luminously green this time; entering Cache Creek Canyon, life-affirmingly beautiful, with many visible traces of where the rocky hillsides had slid onto the road, the reason why it was closed last month; and finally the dirt road itself, not as epic as the one to Tassajara, but still a time to start slowing down, the process that continues when you leave your car in the lot and revert to human speed for the rest of the weekend.
A few hours after leaving the city, then, I was running along the valley road, disturbing cows, quails and ducks, seeing hawks, a heron and a kingfisher, reveling in the quiet.
The bright blue skies meant warm days and cold mornings, bright stars and planets at night, the just-past-full moon setting as daylight grew. For all the joys of being soothed by the water and by the warm air on my skin, though, I was plagued with pre-occupying thoughts during the weekend, which persisted through a few hours of sitting; it was a long run that, as it has so often in my life, dampened that energy and brought some peace.
The buds were only just starting to open on the trees, but when I went running up the hillside on Sunday, I saw baby blue eyes and shooting stars by the side of the trail. I had tried to get up to the ridge trail on my two previous visits, and this time I managed it by starting from the farther end, and was rewarded with views over Bear Valley and the plain beyond to snow-capped ridges and peaks to the north east, even as I could see down to the scattered buildings around the hot springs.

Hillside run-off on its way to the main creek, up the valley from the hot springs

Miraculous Activity

‘When I hear people talking about happiness I have no idea what they mean, but then, it’s not something you talk about, it’s something you do.  Bake pies, chop logs.  At a certain point, the mere sense of living is joy enough. … It takes a lifetime, for some of us at least, to know that the best things in life are the boring, everyday things. … They’re not really boring, of course.  It’s just that we lack the imagination, when we’re young, to see those everyday chores and rituals for what they really are.’

A friend sent me this quote by John Burnside recently, and of course I could not help but think of the famous lines of Layman Pang. A thousand years may lie between the two utterances, but human wisdom does not evolve so much:

‘How miraculous and wondrous,
Hauling water and carrying firewood.’

Shodo Harada

‘From the birth of civilization, or going back even further, to the beginning of the earth, all these millions of years, everything has been left up to desires and instincts: liking and disliking, wanting this and that, using our bodies always for these desires, acting with anger, greed, and hate; yearning endlessly for something, always something else; always holding anger within, or always complaining about what is going on. Why are we so angry, so greedy, so ignorant? We do not even know, but there is no end to our lack of satisfaction. We are always wanting something else, something more. We are always thinking about what everybody else is doing. And for what? We do not even know. Yet not knowing, we continue doing it – our complaining and desiring continue to arise from that craving mind.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)


Having the intention of going to the source, or returning to the origin, is already a mistake.
Essentially there is nowhere to settle down, no place to call one’s home.
The ancient path through the pines is covered with deep snow.
The long range of mountain peaks is furthermore blocked by clouds.
When host and guest are tranquil and serene, everything is incongruous.
When lord and vassal are united, there is wrong in the midst of right.
How will you sing the song of returning home?
In bright moonlight, the dead tree is blooming in front of the hall.

(Ten Verses of Unfathomable Depth – The Song of Not Returning Home)

Dzogchen Ponlop

‘From the Buddhist point of view, when we refer to karma, we are not talking about fate but about a situation in which our actions from the past carry a certain weight and power to affect our present lives. We do have a blueprint, but it is one in which our past karma and our present karma both carry a certain percentage of the power. For example, there might be a particular situation in which our past karma carries fifty percent of the weight. This would mean that there is space – room for present conditions to arise and affect the current situation – for our present karma also to exert half of the total influence on that situation. These two together – past and present karma – constitute one hundred percent of our karma, or the totality of the causal elements that are present in any given situation.
From this perspective, our previous karma is like the seed of a beautiful flower. This seed has the potential to grow and produce a beautiful blossom. However, if we were to leave this flower seed on a table for a hundred years, then it would not produce any result. In order for the seed to produce its potential result, a number of supporting conditions must come together, for example, proper soil, proper temperatures, and sufficient water and sunshine. When these supporting conditions are present at the same time, the seed produces its result, which is a flower.’ (Wild Awakening)

I find it difficult to explain karma convincingly, so I am always glad to find passages where skilled teachers can lay it out in a simple manner like this.

The Passengers in the Last Car

This week has been on the wet side of things. I got rained on while riding on four consecutive days, which was rather wearing, even for the short rides to and from BART.
There were small joys to be found, though. One soggy morning, as the train pulled in, crowded and with steamed-up windows, it made me happy to recognise several different people from previous morning commutes: a man I take to be Russian, with rugged, handsome features who walks to the station along the roads I ride down; two young Asian-American women who might be sisters, who sit quietly side-by-side; a pony-tailed white man with a bike, wearing the same kind of rain jacket I rely on; an African-American man with beard and glasses that give him the look of a trenchant intellectual. Again, I am not sure if any of them recognise me, though the bike guy and I have done the queue-dance of making sure that the first to arrive has their choice of door to enter. Bike riders, on BART as elsewhere, tend to look out for each other and be accommodating as much as possible, with the added element in wet weather of understanding that we are enduring it together.

I remember my mother telling me that my grandfather, who I didn’t know, and who was commonly referred to as Deedah, commuted for many years on the train to Waterloo station in London, an hour each way, in a compartment where the same people sat day in and day out. By her account, there was not much talking in the compartment; it was understood to be a time of reading the newspaper, or perhaps doing a little work. When she started working in London herself, I believe she said that she was not encouraged to join her father in the same compartment…
In the city, rhythms and routines are easy to establish, but connection is not always a part of them (these two articles I read on the same day point to contemporary reasons why that might be more true now than before). Recently I wrote a series of meditations for Simple Habit about commuting, and a part of it was about relating to the people around us; is our intention to pretend that we are completely separate, or can we look for commonality, to set out to be kind rather than uninterested?


A recent rainy morning view from BART


‘When you follow and study a sutra, it emerges. A sutra means the entire world of the ten directions – mountains, rivers, the earth, grass, trees, self, and others. It is having a meal, putting on a robe, and engaging in activities. When you study the way, following a sutra, thousands and myriads of sutras that have never existed emerge and become present.
There are phrases that clearly affirm. There are verses that completely deny. By encountering these phrases and studying them with the entire body and mind, however long the eons you exhaust, and however long the eons you take up, there is always a place where you arrive with full mastery.’ (Shobogenzo Jisho Zammai)