‘The consistent conduct of people of the way is like the flowing clouds with no grasping mind, like the full moon reflecting universally, not confined anywhere, glistening within each of the ten thousand forms. Dignified and upright, emerge and make contact with the variety of phenomena, unstained and unconfused. Function the same towards all others since all have the same substance as you. Language cannot transmit this conduct, speculation cannot reach it. Leaping beyond the infinite and cutting off the dependent, be obliging without looking for merit. This marvel cannot be measured with consciousness or emotion. On the journey accept your function, in your home please sustain it. Comprehending birth and death, leaving causes and conditions, genuinely realize that from the outset your spirit is not halted. So we have been told that the mind that embraces all the ten directions does not stop anywhere.’ (Cultivating the Empty Field)

Nishiari Bokusan

‘The reason lotus flowers are not stained with mud is that they are free within mud. If they remove themselves from mud and go to a field, they will become dried out. But what would happen if the lotus flowers are stuck in the mud? Then they cannot give forth their fragrance. Now look! Being separate is not good. Being attached is not good. Not being separate and not being attached is called going beyond.’ (Dogen’s Genjo Koan – Three Commentaries)

Katagiri Roshi

‘For zazen, we arrange the circumstances in the zendo so that it is not too bright or too dark, not too cold or too hot, not dry or wet. We also arrange the external physical conditions, such as our posture and the amount of food we eat. If we eat too much we may fall asleep pretty easily, so we have to fill just sixty or seventy percent of our stomach. Also, we keep our eyes open, because if we close our eyes we might fall asleep, or we are more likely to enjoy ourselves with lots of imaginings and daydreams. Next we arrange our internal physical condition, that is our heart, our intestines, our stomach and our blood. But these things are beyond our control, so how can we take care of them? The only way is to take care of the breath. If we take care of the breath, very naturally, internal physical conditions will work pretty well. This is important. If we arrange the circumstances around our body, our mind, and all internal and external conditions, then, very naturally, the mind is also engaged in our activities. Then we are not bothered by the workings of our mind; the mind does not touch the core of our existence; it is just with us, that is all. When all circumstances are completely peaceful, just the center of ourselves blooms. This is our zazen; this is shikan taza.’ (Returning to Silence)

Teachers are often told to teach on what they are most interested in at a particular time. Having thoroughly got my teeth into the Genjo Koan while I was in England, I picked up Katagiri’s book as I began to commute again. This passage, with its echoes of Dogen’s instructions in the Fukanzazengi, seems a great piece to take to Tassajara with me, where I will be, starting today.


With realization, all things are of one family,
Without realization, everything is separate and different.
Without realization, all things are of one family,
With realization, everything is separate and different.

Nyogen Senzaki

‘When I mention Zen, some may think I am talking about something different from the general body of Buddhism – that Zen is some sect made in Japan and imported here. Zen is not the name of a sect. It is an expression for the realization and the actualization of the Dharma. If your wish is to carry on the work of book-learning, you will not find much profit in Zen; Zen has no textbook. It considers the sutras as being a means to enlightenment. Each is a golden bridge toward buddhahood. But if you do not practice meditation, you have nothing to do with Zen.’ (Eloquent Silence)

What I think about when I am riding

The day after I returned to California, I officiated a very small wedding out in the redwoods north of San Francisco. I often say that while I appreciate the vastness of the redwoods – and standing at the foot of several majestic trunks in soft afternoon light last week took my breath away – I don’t have the same response to them as I do to English broad-leaf trees. In last week’s post I outlined some of my conclusions about my trip, but left out a part I had written about taking refuge in the landscape, the familiar locales, flora and fauna that help me feel rooted. I was lucky enough to be in a number of places where there was quiet and space, but where nothing felt too wild for comfort: Kit Hill and Cadsonbury in Cornwall, Heptonstall and Calder Water in Yorkshire, the Wye Valley in Hereford, Lagan Meadows and Malin Head in Ireland, Devil’s Dyke and the South Downs north of Brighton. Sheltered by oak, chestnut and beech; listening to robins, wood pigeons and gulls almost everywhere, skylarks, pheasants and buzzards in the more remote spots; savouring the flowers, ever-present bluebells, campion, blackthorn, gorse, cow parsley.
The weather has been up and down since my return, with some warm days, but others cooler with strong winds, and the traditional San Francisco rolling fog. Trying to find my cycling legs after a month off the bike – and with an eye to a future climb of Mount Diablo – I have been setting off on short rides not straying much past the city. On the first ride, perhaps because of the time of day, I felt like I had nothing in my legs, even after fifteen minutes; eating all my energy snacks helped get some strength back, so it may have been that I just wasn’t ready for that amount of exercise at that time.
Over the weekend I set off early to the Headlands. Through the Presidio, the gentle morning mist thickened until it was condensing on my arms – and more to the point, on my wheel rims, causing the brakes to be less efficient. There were, typically, pockets of sun as soon as I crossed the bridge, and photographers happily capturing the tips of the towers emerging from the white. A couple of days later I rode through an even low fog cloud down to the ocean, as we will on the next Roam, across the morning rush hour in Daly City (where I generally find the drivers to be very accommodating), and up San Bruno Mountain. Once you turn off the Guadeloupe Canyon Road, to the summit road which is closed to cars, there is a real sense of stillness, punctuated on this occasion by many rabbits and a few ravens. The fog persisted until a corner about two hundred yards short of the summit, where I suddenly came into clear blue. Parts of the airport and other bayside areas were visible; otherwise, just the other peaks, Diablo and Tam, and then the two tallest structures – the Sutro Tower and the cranes atop the Salesforce Tower. I zipped up my tops as I descended back into the much cooler fog, but at least my legs held out all the way home. After two weeks at Tassajara, I will be almost back to square one again.


‘One day, Yantou was talking with Xuefeng and Qinshan. Xuefeng suddenly pointed at a basin of water.
Qinshan said, “When the water is clear the moon comes out.”
Xuefeng said, “When the water is clear the moon does not come out.”
Yantou kicked over the basin and walked away.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

My first thought on reading this story was of the first three lines of the Genjo Koan: first the conventional view, then the view of emptiness, finally the view going beyond relative and absolute. Reading Nishiari Bokusan’s commentary as part of my preparation for going to England to try to teach on the subject, he points that it is not necessarily a progression from the ‘simplest’ to the ‘most advanced’ way of looking at things; all three views always exist at the same time. So perhaps this time Yantou (Ganto in Japanese), rather than having the final say, is only left with one option to express himself. Still, he does not miss the target. Walking away just seals the deal.

Suzuki Roshi

‘The Buddhist way is beyond being and non-being. We know each colorful thread and we know the whole woven cloth.’ (Dogen’s Genjo Koan – Three Commentaries)


‘Together buddhas extend their hands; ancestors transmit to each other. Tell me, what do they transmit, and what do they give? Everyone, if you know the place to settle down, you will see all the buddhas of the three times and all generations of ancestral teachers, holding hands and pulling, without affirming advancement. If you hesitate in deliberation, this mountain monk with be in your nostrils. At that very time, how is it?

After a pause Dogen said: Although the colors of Eihei mountain are marvelous, in front of us is the highest peak.’ (Extensive Record, 290)

So, do you know the place to settle down, or are you hesitating in deliberation?

Ta Hui

‘This affair is like the bright sun in the blue sky, shining clearly, changeless and motionless, without diminishing or increasing. It shines everywhere in the daily activities of everyone, appearing in everything. Though you try to grasp it, you cannot get it; though you try to abandon it, it always remains. It is vast and unobstructed, utterly empty. Like a gourd floating on water, it cannot be reined in or held down. Since ancient times, when good people of the Path have attained this, they’ve appeared and disappeared in the sea of death, able to use it fully. There is no deficit or surplus.’ (Swampland Flowers)