Shohaku Okumura

‘In my zazen, I sometimes feel that I completely understand what Dogen Zenji is saying in Shobogenzo. I have no question; everything is so clear. But I have to let go of it in zazen. And after zazen, I forget what I understood.
It is not only the small negative or egocentric thoughts, but also our thoughts or our understanding about Buddha’s teaching which we should let go of as well. Then the true Dharma as reality will start to appear. It will not appear as an object of our mind, but our entire body/mind becomes a part of the movement of the entire reality.
So we gain nothing, really nothing. The person does not become enlightened. From the beginning this person is part of the reality of all things. But because of our thinking and judging, we separate ourselves from the rest of the world. By letting go, this separation is removed. That is how this wholehearted practice of the way allows all beings to exist on the basis of the true dharma.’ (Sitting under the Bodhi Tree)

The Lotus Sutra

‘The Tathagata is able to discriminate everything, preach the law skillfully, use gentle words, and cheer the hearts of all. Sariputra! Essentially speaking the Buddha has altogether fulfilled the infinite, boundless, unprecedented Law. Enough, Sariputra, there is no need to say more. Wherefore? Because the Law, which the Buddha has perfected is the chief unprecedented Law, and difficult to understand. Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the Reality of All Existence, that is to say, all existence has such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a primary cause, such a secondary cause, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete fundamental whole.’

This is the heart of The Lotus Sutra, the revealing of the final complete teaching of the Buddha after he acknowledges his previous teaching as skillful or expedient means to bring people along the path to understanding. I am very tempted to head straight back to Dogen to remind myself how he parses these lines in the Shobogenzo.

Shundo Aoyama

‘Spring comes to all, equally. It does not come quickly because someone wants it to, or slowly to one who wishes for delay. Spring arrives for everyone in the same fashion. In the sunlight, violets are violets, cherry blossoms are cherry blossoms. Some of the flowering stems or branches are short and others are long. Each blooms with a flower unique to it.’ (Zen Seeds)

These formulations may seem trite, but it is worth taking a moment to look at them and absorb what they are saying. Writing this out I remembered this post, which uses similar images; and of course this more recent one.  It boils down to: what can we control, compared to what we think we can control, or what we wish to? When we can appreciate the difference, ease follows.

Uchiyama Roshi

‘A certain American said that he had been sitting an hour a week for a year at a temple before he came to Antai-ji and at that time he was thinking of writing a dissertation on zazen. However, he laughingly said that after he came to Antai-ji and did daily zazen and sesshins, he realized that he couldn’t yet write a dissertation or anything on zazen. Now, isn’t that just the way it is.’ (Approach to Zen)

Suzuki Roshi

‘There is no end to our practice. Because there is no end to our practice, your practice is good. Don’t you think so? But usually you expect your practice could be effective enough to put an end to hard practice. If I say, “Practice hard for just two years,” you will lose interest in our practice. If I say, “You have to practice your whole life,” then you will be disappointed. “Oh, Zen is not good. Zen is not for me.” But if you understand what practice is, and if you are interested in practice, the reason you are interested in practice is that practice never ends. That is why I am interested in Buddhism. There is no end. Even if human beings vanish from this earth, Buddhism exists.’ (Genjo Koan – Three Commentaries)


The empty hall resounds with the voice of the raindrops.
Even a master fails to answer.
If you say you have turned the current,
You have no true understanding.
Understanding? No understanding?
Misty with rain, the northern and southern mountains.


‘Yangshan asked Kueishan, “If a million objects come to you, what do you do?” Kueishan answered, “A green article is not yellow. A long thing is not short. Each object manages its own fate. Why should I interfere with them?”‘ (The Iron Flute)

One of the pleasure of browsing in the Tassajara library is to scan the cards to see who has taken the books out over the years. Mostly I find familiar names going back twenty years. The Iron Flute is a less-well-known collection of koans, translated by Nyogen Senzaki, which I like mostly for his dry comments, and the lovely illustrations in the square editions of which Tassajara has two copies. I was a little surprised, though, to see that no-one had taken out the copy I pulled from the shelf since I had in 2007…

The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings

‘A bodhisattva, if he wants to learn and master the doctrine of Innumerable Meanings, should observes that all laws were originally, will be, and are in themselves void in nature and form; they are neither great nor small, neither appearing nor disappearing, neither fixed nor immovable, and neither advancing nor retreating; and they are nondualistic, just emptiness. All living beings, however, discriminate falsely: “It is this” or “It is that” and “It is advantageous” or “It is disadvantageous”; they entertain evil thoughts, make various evil karmas, and thus transmigrate within the six realms of existence; and they suffer all manner of miseries, and cannot escape from there during infinite kotis of kalpas. Bodhisattva-mahasattvas, observing rightly like this, should raise the mind of compassion, display the great mercy desiring to relieve others of suffering, and once again penetrate deeply into all laws. According to the nature of a law, such a law emerges. According to the nature of a law, such a law settles. According to the nature of a law, such a law changes. According to the nature of a law, such a law vanishes. According to the nature of a law, such an evil law emerges. According to the nature of a law, such a good law emerges. Settling, changing, and vanishing are also like this. Bodhisattvas, having thus completely observed and known these four aspects from beginning to end, should next observe that none of these laws settles down even for a moment, but all emerge and vanish anew every moment; and observe that they emerge, settle, change and vanish instantly. After such observation, we see all manner of natural desires of living beings. As natural desires are innumerable, preaching is immeasurable, and as preaching is immeasurable, meanings are innumerable. The Innumerable Meanings originate from one law. This one law is, namely, nonform. Such nonform is formless and not-form. Being not form and formless, it is called the real aspect of things. The mercy which bodhisattva-mahasattvas display after stabilising themselves in such a real aspect is real and not vain. They excellently relieve living beings from sufferings. Having given relief from sufferings, they preach the Law again and let all living beings obtain pleasure.’

I had an urge to make The Lotus Sutra my next commute read, and since it is always worth observing such urges, I got stuck into it. In the edition which Linda Ruth recommended we get, when we studied it at Tassajara back in 2004, The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings forms the preface to the main sutra itself.  Reading it for the first time in all these years, I found it very heart-warming and encouraging. Stay tuned for a couple more extracts, as well as some from The Lotus Sutra.

Shodo Harada

‘Original Nature can be realized if you can just let go of everything. To conceptualize around this is meaningless. While still in our world you must hold onto nothing – not a single thing – but let go of your attachment to every possession, every pain, every plan, every material thing, all of your self-centered opinions, separating yourself from all decoration. When you can truly become that state of mind, this is in itself an astonishing experience, full of great wonder. There is a great joy in this, and it will fill you with gratitude when you realize it for the first time.
This is something that cannot be explained in words. It is like the air around us. Who remembers to be thankful for the air we breathe? We all take it for granted. No one notices the air or thinks to say thank-you to it, but whether we notice it or not, it is always there. Those who do notice know the joy of always being supported by it; they know gratitude and joy with each breath. When one approaches the experience of enlightenment only intellectually, trying to grasp some idea of it with the mind, every day will be filled with dissatisfaction and suffering, because one cannot experience this joy merely by thinking about it.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)

When reading the first paragraph, you might feel daunted by the prescription: who wants to give up all those things? Although I have not met Harada Roshi, by all accounts he does manifest full and concentrated aliveness, which means I trust what he is talking about, just as I trust those teachers I have met who have gone through the same process. My own intimations of the ‘great wonder’ mean that I will continue on this path, as what seems like a sacrifice is actually a relinquishing of an unnecessary burden.

Enkyo O’Hara

‘We can’t control joy. It is something that bobs up when we are truly alive and meet the whole world in an instant. We can experience joy in every aspect of our life, in working, in caring, in creating, and even in suffering. I think the key to experiencing joy is, as we say so often, being awake… What is “being awake”? Isn’t it our capacity to let go of our grasping onto what we think we want, what we think is happening to us, to drop all of those presumptions and be exposed and intimate with what is here, right now? I believe it is our resistance to what is right here, right now, that blocks the natural flow of joy.’ (Most Intimate)

Recently I was out on a run, and had got to the top of Portola, warmed up and settling into a rhythm. I was heading for Mount Davidson, the highest point in the city. As I trotted along a quiet street, I smiled at an elderly woman who was weeding her front yard, sitting in a chair and bending down. A car drove by, seemingly much too fast for a narrow road, which irritated me. Then I saw a perfect rose bush in another yard, an instant of joy. I still had to run up a mountain…