Suzuki Roshi

‘When truth is actually fill your body, you think that something is missing [laughs]. Do you understand what does he mean? Something is missing– ”something is missing” means if you understand truth, you know, actual truth, truth is not– truth is– truth reveal itself in eternal present. Not only this moment, but also eternally it will continuously reveal itself through our activity. So what we do just now is not enough. We have to take another, you know, activity in next moment. So what we– just what we do is not enough.
If someone ask you what is truth, you know, you may say, “I don’t know”– you can say, “I don’t know,” or you can say, “What is it?” [Laughs.] What is it? “What is it?” means you stop and think, or you appreciate life in that moment. We are– we live in eternal present, but we even know that we do not aware of present even– present time even. We are just doing– continuously doing things one after another.
So you don’t know– you are not aware of your life even. But if someone ask you what it is, you may say, “Oh, what will it be?” [Laughs.] That is the answer, you know. “Oh– oh, I am doing something [laughs]. What am I doing [laughs]? This is the answer. What are you doing? “Oh my! I am watching the fish!” [Laughs, laughter.] That is the answer. Do you understand? “What am I doing? Oh, I’m practicing zazen.” That is true practice. That is true answer. “What is it?” is the answer, you know. “Oh, I don’t know” is also. “What are you doing? “Oh, oh my– I don’t know!” [Laughs, laughter.]
When you are actually one with truth, things happens on your life in that way. That is true life. When you discuss about the truth, what it is [laughs]– the more you discuss, the more [laughs] you will be separated from the truth. But when you know that, it’s all right– if you are answering to the question– someone’s question who do not know what is the truth. So you are trying to answer. Just you say, “Don’t be silly, I am just eating.” [Laughs.]

I copied this from an unedited transcript of a Suzuki Roshi talk, such as you can find here. I neglected to add the date or the actual page where I found the material, but since I can tell he is talking about the Genjo Koan, it was not hard to track down (and you can hear the talk here). In all the circularity of his expression, he is trying to elucidate the point that anything we think is happening necessarily does not encapsulate what is actually happening. More pertinently, there is a lot of laughter, which is also the essential point.

Karen Sunna

‘ I would encourage you to listen in zazen. Please listen and you will hear many things. You can hear the sound of the stream, the birds, footsteps, the dog bark, the fly in your ear, the dishes being washed in the kitchen. Many things. Just listen. Don’t compare, don’t contrast, don’t judge, don’t learn. Just listen in emptiness.’ (Sitting under the Bodhi Tree)

This book is a little booklet with talks given during a sesshin at Tassajara in 1997 attended by various zen teachers. The list of things being heard is a very typical soundscape from the zendo there.

Eileen Myles

Everything’s like a shade
of brightness and dark
like this new pad
I got
or my computer
or these doorways opening
one to the next
which is where I
began. Nothing is like
my dog eating an
apple core in bed
The sleeping
bag is read. It’s March
and it’s already
warm. I don’t want
you stepping on
my computer which is
where all my friends
are, some of whom are Nazis
I never thought I’d call Nazis
friends but I spend
at least an hour
a night w these ones &
then I wake up
and read about
the real ones on
Twitter. For days Rebecca
& I struggled to be
facebook friends.
It was like we were
going to the gym
together. We worked
it out. I was visiting
her today looking
at her face. The heat
just rumbled. It’s not
even evening but I
thought I’d get
a little nazi
in early. I would die
for my country
if that included
everything, my friends,
and my dogs
and all the lakes
and ponds. I
am ready
for the struggle.

(The Vow)


‘Spring has the feeling of spring, and autumn has the look of autumn; there is no escaping it. So when you want spring or autumn to be different from what it is, notice that it can only be what it is. Or, when you want to keep spring or autumn as it is, reflect that it has no unchanging nature.’ (Shobogenzo Yuibutsu Yobutsu)

When I went back to look at Only a Buddha and a Buddha, I found not only Dogen’s manifestation of the Lotus Sutra, (I first wrote echo, but realised that implied more of a separation), but also this paragraph, which reminded me of what I posted recently by Shundo Aoyama. More to the point, reading it, with a cup of coffee in hand, on a partly sunny weekday morning in San Francisco, I could feel my stomach tightening in a kind of excitement that is hard to put into words, but which always feels like yes – and not the yes of yes-and-no, where everything is divided in half, but the yes of yes, which includes both.

What I think about when I am riding

Holidays are a good time to go riding. I had a lovely time early on New Year’s Day taking streets in the city I would never normally think to ride on (I wondered if I had written about it at the time, but looking through the archive of the month drew a blank – though I enjoyed reading a couple of other pieces I had forgotten about). Since I was awake at first light on the 4th, it seemed a good time to repeat the exercise.
It had seemed pretty quiet in town when I got back on Monday, and it was even more so on Tuesday. I went up to Twin Peaks via Market Street, which I have not done since my earliest days in the city when I did not know the quieter side roads (Corbett or Roosevelt in this case), down to the zoo, and then around the coastal edge of the city all the way to Mission Bay and Cesar Chavez (which is okay to ride on now it has a bike lane, though the lights are poorly timed to make it enjoyable). The volume of traffic was very low – in both meanings of the word: I rolled down Potrero (another road I would usually avoid) able to hear birds, conversations of people getting of buses, and the click of my gears. Those drivers who were out seemed to be less stressed and in less of a hurry than on a regular day, and I could not help but wish it were always like this. The only crowds were around Fisherman’s Wharf, where the tourists were already out and about at eight.
The following morning I went over the bridge, through Mill Valley and tested my meagre climbing legs on the roads up to Four Corners, and after descending to Muir Woods, back up past Green Gulch where the highway is now open again, having been closed all year so far (the other stretch north of Muir Beach is still closed, so the traffic was all local, and there were fewer cars than usual). There were two places where the new embankment work could be seen, and others where cracks in the road showed that previous shoring up jobs looked like they already needed repair. On the way down to Tam Junction, there was work on one of the lower hairpins, which meant I didn’t get the clear fast descent I had hoped for – though I did have that going down to Muir Woods. Returning through Sausalito, I fell in with a guy commuting into the city, who turned out to have grown up less than fifty miles from where I did in the Home Counties, and we had a nice natter until I decided not to push too hard to keep up with him on the way up to the bridge.
The highlight of both outings was when I was rolling along the top of Twin Peaks, enjoying the new road surface (I could write at length about how much of a difference this can make to a cyclist on skinny tyres), and I saw two coyotes standing close to the road. I started to wonder how this compared to seeing a bobcat at Wilbur on Sunday, before dismissing the idea of needing to compare. Anytime you see a bobcat is auspicious; I have seen a number of coyotes in the city, but never two together like that. And even if I was in the city rather than a glorious remote valley, I still got to ride alongside the Pacific Ocean and pass both the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge in the course of less than an hour. I think my compatriot would agree – it is pretty amazing that I get to live here, and sometimes I do pinch myself to remember that it is real.

Enkyo O’Hara

‘When we first come to Zen practice, many of us think that is is only about us individually. We think it’s about “me” getting better at “something.” We might want to be a better student or parent or runner – or just a better person. Personally I wanted to be free of my fear: fear of others, of being seen in a negative light, of not being good enough, of not being accepted. I thought meditation practice would give me courage, and it did, but not in the way I anticipated. I had put the emphasis on myself, not recognizing that this self is… made up of everyone I encounter and especially of those people in my daily life… Through the quiet awareness of meditation, I began to realize the freedom of experiencing myself as relationship rather than as an entity, a separate being. The courage meditation gave me is the courage of my wholeness.’ (Most Intimate)

Picking up this book again, I found several quotes to use in my class, and which speak to everyone’s experience. I have been trying to stress the role of the brahmaviharas in connecting us to others, and I hope that some of it has stayed with the people who have attended.

Kobun Chino

‘When you meet a new person, you say, “Tell me about yourself,” and they say, “My name is so-and-so, my personal history is so-and-so.” You can also ask the same question about yourself. We have been taught various objective truths, but they are actually just suppositions: “Maybe I am a man,” “Maybe I am a woman,” “Maybe this, in the United Stated, is the best way of life.” Even when our comparative, conceptual knowledge piles up and is analyzed, there is still “maybe.” This attempt to understand, become conscious of the self, is objective self, which does not exist. Alas! The life we live is not necessarily what we have studied or discussed. This conceptual, knowledge-based self is nothing but a game of created self-consciousness, an image of ignorance, so to speak. Life has to be freed and lived, instead of being known. Knowing never satisfies, although knowing is one of our major intellectual functions. It’s as if you say, “Oh, I got it,” and then go to sleep.’ (Embracing Mind)

Reaching the end of the Lotus Sutra, I looked at my bookshelves and worried that there was nothing I felt moved to read, having got through so many books on my commutes this past fifteen months. When I went to Zen Center to teach on Thursday, I stopped at the bookstore and picked up the newish book on Kobun Chino, which was co-edited by my dharma friend Joseph Hall, and which I have been wanting to read – and was very glad I did.
I never met Kobun, who died tragically just a couple of years after I started practising, but the way I have heard him spoken of over the years, which Joseph encapsulates wonderfully in his introduction, make me feel I would be especially glad to meet him now, since my life has become unmoored from residential practice, and often looks entirely formless; he seems to have specialised in teaching in different environments, from Tassajara to Jikoji to other parts of the world, being true to the teaching no matter where he was – something to aspire to.

Doing nothing is not over-rated

It would be a bit of a stretch to call my current life stressful, but last week was fairly full by my standards (teaching twice on Monday, three days spent editing video – a skill I am acquiring slowly – and teaching a class on Thursday night, as well as finishing off two hundred photo cards), so I was more than ready for a long weekend at Wilbur, and I fully engaged in the process of relaxing on Friday afternoon, in 100 degree sun by the pool, where the above thought came to me. It is always a privilege and a luxury to get to be there, one that it is hard not to enjoy fully.
Leading five meditation sessions over the weekend – extending into Monday morning – I did not prepare anything to say, but allowed the spaciousness of being at Wilbur to provide the inspiration. There is always something to spark an idea – the breeze blowing through the pine trees; heading out for a run in the cool stillness of Sunday morning and seeing a bobcat a few yards ahead of me on the trail to the medicine wheel; surrendering to the intense heat, of the kind that I never knew growing up in England; moving at human pace – something I always like to highlight at Tassajara as well.
The theme for Monday morning was ‘stillness is not stuckness’: exploring how being grounded in meditation means allowing the constant flow of reality to shift around us without wanting things to be a particular fixed way, with the values we have assigned to it. It made sense at the time, in any case, with the breeze blowing over the yoga deck.
I have been leading these sessions for a year now, a full cycle of seasons, and am glad to be a part of that community and that wonderful landscape, thanks to the generosity of people who make it possible for me to be there.

The evening sun setting on the long valley upstream from the baths.

The ‘fountain of life’.

Morning sun in the indoor plunges.

Keido Fukushima

‘A monastery is a greenhouse for growing non-ego… We don’t let the monks sleep much, and we limit them to simple food. They always want to sleep more, but this is just another illusion. And because they’re always eating simple food, they’re always craving rich food. And this too, is just another illusion. But such illusions are simple. There are other kinds of illusion that are more complicated. So we focus on these two very simple illusions to ward off more complicated illusions. This is part of the wisdom of our long Zen tradition.’ (Zen Bridge)

I read these words during my recent time at Tassajara, where this book was a new arrival in the library, and they resonated deeply. Tassajara in the summer is not as strict as Tassajara in the winter, but I remembered how in my first winter I had been tired and hungry all the time – and cold as well, to add another simple illusion. Undoubtedly training monasteries in Japan push their young charges harder than their equivalents in the US, but the principles are the same. And while it may seem hard-hearted, and it is tough to live through at times, the wisdom of the tradition holds true. I often reflect back on how not getting to live the way I wanted while was at the monastery was in fact incredibly liberating; I realised in my first winter that I had to practise with being tired, hungry and cold all the time. No-one was forcing me to be there, so it was up to me to resist or to meet the circumstances. And getting to meet circumstances in these simple and contained ways helps us to meet all kinds of circumstances in the rest of our lives.

Allen Ginsberg

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—
—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these
entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,
—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision. (Sunflower Sutra)