‘To approach real peace requires a very strong, stable, spiritual commitment, a vow. Just take a vow. Make a commitment toward real peace, just like Buddha sitting under the dead tree. But remember, even though we do make a commitment toward real peace, there will be many individuals who don’t accept our way. So finally, where can real peace be found? With us. We ourselves must remain with peace. This is pretty hard, but we cannot stop. Buddha has to continue to sit under the dead tree. This is our sitting.’ (Returning to Silence)
Encountering whatever meets the eye, all is intimate.
In sitting, lying or walking meditation, the body is completely real.
When someone asks the meaning of this,
A speck of dust appears within the Dharma eye treasury. (Extensive Record, vol 10, 66)
‘Basically the only thing we have to do is “just sit there” and be “unfabricated.” Now how hard could that be? Just sit there and be unfabricated. Well if you are honest, what is it that goes through our minds about 99.9% of the time? What are all these thoughts about? I sometimes call it “Channel Me.” I can watch it for days.’ (Sitting under the Bodhi Tree)
I think anyone who has sat a long sesshin knows about this. I have used that terms on occasion, and found it a very helpful label when I fall into internal navel gazing during long sits.
Last Monday I rode my bike over to the Embarcadero at noon to meet my dharma brother Zachary, who had brought his car over from North Beach with all the zafus and goza mats; the parking fairies were on our side, and he got a spot right by the open space we were planning to use.
While my initial thought had been to set up right by the Cupid’s Bow sculpture, there was a smaller expanse of grass just to the south of that, in the middle of which was a little olive tree offering a certain amount of shade, which seemed a more auspicious location, so we spread ourselves out there.
We chatted for a while, about hiking, biking and Tassajara, as we often do, and then settled into quiet sitting, a little before our scheduled start time. I didn’t feel remotely self-conscious, and I wasn’t especially worried if any of the people who said they were going to come actually showed up. It was just wonderful to sit upright and be seeing the lunch-time world go by.
There were any number of sparrows flying in and out of the olive tree, with quite the twittering; a dragonfly passing by; occasional ferries manoeuvring in and out of the docks; streetcars clanging down the Embarcadero; people on rollerblades, on skateboards, running, pedalling, doing tai chi, wearing suits, heels, running shoes, toting phones, cameras, lunches.
A Dogen quote rather stuck in my mind: ‘For practicing zen, a quiet room is suitable.’ Not always so, as the wise man said. I also remembered the more encouraging line from the Bendowa: ‘The zazen of even one person at one moment imperceptibly accords with all things.’ And, beautifully enough, there were a couple of occasions when I fully felt that all the movement of people and vehicles and birds and boats was entirely included in the zazen that was manifesting itself at that moment.
In the end we were joined by someone from Australia, who just came along and sat silently with us for more than half the session, which we ended when we heard the Ferry Building clock striking the half hour. He had been visiting various Meetups in the city during his stay, and was about to get on the plane back across the Pacific. Zachary and I packed everything back up for our much shorter journeys home, and agreed that it was so much fun we would do it all again next Monday.
This is where we were, if you would like to come along next Monday.
‘The Buddha addressed Sariputra: “Such a wonderful Law as this is only preached by the buddha-tathagatas on rare occasions, just as the udumbara flower is seen but once in long periods. Sariputra, believe me, all of you; in the Buddha’s teaching no word is false. Sariputra, the meaning of the laws which the buddhas expound as opportunity serves is difficult to understand. Wherefore? Because I expound the laws by numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parabolic expressions. These laws cannot be understood by powers of thought or discrimination; only the buddhas can discern them. Wherefore? Because the buddhas, the world-honored ones, only on account of the one very great cause appear in the world. Sariputra, why do I say that the buddhas, the world-honored ones, only on account of the one very great cause appear in the world? Because the buddhas, the world-honored ones, desire to cause all living beings to open their eyes to the Buddha-knowledge so that they may gain the pure mind, therefore they appear in the world; because they desire to show all living beings the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world; because the desire to cause all living beings to apprehend the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world; because they desire to cause all living beings to enter the way of the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world. Sariputra, this is why it is only on account of the one very great cause that buddhas appear in the world.’
Just as in the previous quote, this is the heart of what the Lotus Sutra is about. A footnote in my edition draws attention to the four different stages of meeting the teachings, which elsewhere I have heard as hearing, reflecting, understanding and manifesting.
‘Just because it’s so very close, you cannot get this Truth out of your own eyes. When you open your eyes it strikes you, and when you close your eyes it’s not lacking either. When you open your mouth you speak of it, and when you shut your mouth it appears by itself. But if you try to receive it by stirring your mind, you’ve already missed it by eighteen thousand miles.’ (Swampland Flowers)
‘Of course, just sitting is not as easy as it sounds. All kinds of thoughts come up, all kinds of sayings, all kinds of delusions and ideas. All kinds of problems as always coming to interrupt zazen, one after another the thoughts come out: we question whether what we are doing is doing any good, or how long we have to do it, or if we are doing it right, or whether it is really going to work or not. Or we think about all the other things we still have to do, about whether it is really necessary for our legs to hurt this much, about how nothing will come of tomorrow if we only do this. All these things and more. Then, if our mind becomes quiet, we start enjoying the fact that we are feeling good. Our body may feel like it is floating in air or being pulled into the ground; all kinds of strange sensations may intrude. As they come up, one after another, we have to just cut and throw away, cut and throw away, on and on and on and on… and doing this we go deeper and deeper.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)
This is in the section of the book about sesshin, and what it describes will be familiar to anyone who has sat a long retreat. It happens during any period of meditation really, but it is much more pronounced and obvious over a longer sitting
On my commutes, I am still enjoying spending at least a part of the time reading zen books; this gives me plenty of material to fill this blog with, but also is an important part of my current personal practice.
Sometimes a phrase I read will just land in a way that stops everything. It happened the other day reading Kobun Chino’s book; he quoted Dogen, in a phrase I know well, but in a different translation to the one I am used to, that we are ‘conveyed by all myriad dharmas.’ Very apt to read on a train, conveyed by and through objects, space and time. I was looking out of the window at traffic on the freeway overpass, and the grubby land beneath, and suddenly felt totally settled and excited at the same time. I remembered a phrase that had come to me a couple of years ago, which I based a talk on, and pictured us all as vessels of enlightenment, conveyed by all myriad dharmas. This is so, I thought, unshakeably so.
Reading the Lotus Sutra recently, I was struck by how moving it was in the context of being on a train – there was not an incongruity as you might expect, between the sometimes hallucinatory language and the mundane surroundings I was reading it in; instead it almost felt like an invitation to imagine the worlds described in the sutra existing just out of sight of this urban world, just waiting to be summoned.
Since I do not get up and sit every morning in the zendo, as I did for so many years, I am happy to explore other ways that practice can manifest. Contemplative reading is one of them; so are running and riding, taking photographs, meditation with different apps, and leading my Roaming Zen hikes. Starting today, my dharma brother Zachary Smith and I are launching another venture, something we have been plotting for a while: meditation out in the city, for people to drop in during their lunch break.
Part of the inspiration for this was from a group from Young Urban Zen who tried it for a while; part also came from reading this, which features a former young monk I knew from Tassajara who subsequently switched traditions.
A Meetup has been created, but you don’t have to join the Meetup to be able to come along. The aim is to do this every Monday lunch-time, down on the Embarcadero, on the grass by Cupid’s Span, which is between Howard and Folsom. We will bring the cushions; you bring your busy mind and give it a little rest over lunch-time. We will be there from 12:30 – 1:30; you can drop in any time.
We did a somewhat spontaneous pilot at Wisdom 2.0 earlier in the year.
We will be somewhere on the grass here if you are in town and can make it along.
in the middle of a fight
‘Remain solitary without dependency and drop off all of reality. Mixed together with the ten thousand forms, be clear and apparent. Eminent and vigorous on each bit of ground, be like the moon stamped on the water, flowing but not flowing. Like the wind in the sky, move but do not move. Having become thoroughly like this, when you proceed, in mean alleys do not ride on a golden horse; when turning back, wear tattered robes.’ (Extensive Record, discourse 316)
With these words I feel Dogen is channeling Hongzhi; outlining the power and energy of the adept, but also, in the marvelous images in the last sentence, counseling against arrogance and showiness in ways that are still echoed today. I hope no-one ever accuses me of riding on a golden horse.