Suzuki Roshi

‘Whatever the teaching may be: the teaching confronts each. In accordance with the circumstances, the teaching has absolute value; and to accord with the circumstances the teaching should have an infinite number of forms.
Buddhism in its pure and formless form is given to us in samadhi or zazen when we are ready to accept Buddhism without expecting anything. Buddhism is not something you will find out when you try. When you are just ready to accept it, everything you see flashes forth the great light, everything you hear is the wondrous Pre-voice. That is why we sit.’

Following on from yesterday’s words, here is a transcript from the early days of Suzuki Roshi’s teachings at Zen Center. I had not realised until recently that he went through the whole Blue Cliff Record way back before there was Tassajara or City Center…

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Hongzhi

‘In wholeness take one step.’ (Cultivating the Empty Field)

Just like yesterday’s post, this reminds me of a koan – in this case, one of the translations of Yunmen’s response in the Blue Cliff Record (case 14): ‘Preaching facing oneness.’ For a long time I stuck with the other answer to the question (the question itself is a relatively stock koan one, ‘What is the teaching of the Buddha’s lifetime?’), which is ‘an appropriate response.’ Then I grew to appreciate that each has its very particular merits. How do we respond when faced with the absolute? As yesterday’s post reminds us. Don’t stop there; you are still a person. Take one step; say something; respond appropriately. Good places to start.

Kobun Chino

‘You don’t go anywhere from kensho. Seeking to know yourself ends, and time starts. The future doesn’t exist in the future, and the past hasn’t gone yet. Your ordinary dualistic knowledge of everything ends. But you don’t dwell in such a realization. After the second or third moment, you discover you are still a person, and you get up and prepare yourself for the day as usual. You live as if nothing has happened. You still get mad and you get glad when something good happens. But each time, when you realize this original self within you, the battle within you somewhat ends. In a sense, the battle to actualize such oneness starts anew. It is a real battle. Other existences out there are not others any more, so that the problem is much more serious when you see suffering people. That becomes your own suffering, immediately. Or when someone is experiencing great joy, by looking at, hearing, that joy, you become so happy!’ (Embracing Mind)

If anyone asked me if I had had a kensho experience, I would say no; reading of other people’s descriptions, I don’t feel that the same thing has happened to me. Nevertheless, I recognise the response in the last sentences, the more intimate connection with others’ emotions, in my life these days. As Kobun Chino says, echoing one of my favourite koansyou get up and prepare yourself for the day as usual.

The Energy of the Repeated Gesture

Back in the days of the first blog I wrote, whenever I was going to be away for a while, I would preload posts, either linking back to previous posts, or sharing various themed photographs – mostly of Tassajara. As I prepared to go to England for a month, I was wondering what to plan. I have written a few things for my Patreon page, seen by my handful of benefactors, which feel a little more informally anecdotal than much of what is on this blog, and I will share a few here over the next couple of weeks. This is a post I put up on that site, but is actually from the Ino’s Blog a few years ago. Its seasonality is appropriate – today is the day that people leave for Tassajara for the Fall Practice Period, the 100th at the monastery:

This was a phrase that came to me one morning at Tassajara, when I was wrapping up my bowls at the end of breakfast. There is a particular way to flip and fold the lap cloth that I enjoy, and it occurred to me that even though it was something I did three times a day almost every day, rather than being dulled by familiarity, I still paid attention to it, and that the energy of this repeated gesture helped me to be present in a sustained way.

I always seem to find September a more meaningful time of year than January; the new year itself is something I don’t get especially excited about, but in September I still feel the pull of transition – for many years, going back to school or college, recently the end of the Tassajara guest season and the beginning of the practice periods. Even when I am not there, there is always a part of me that wants to go, and having people coming from and going to Tassajara this week exacerbates that feeling. The weather right now is contributing as well; after the tiniest glimpses of a possible Indian summer, we are having autumnal temperatures, chilly winds and fog, which lend themselves to a closing down feeling; the leaves on the maple tree in the courtyard are starting to turn red. Next week we will have our equinox ceremony, to mark with a ritual the change of season; the moon is filling, bringing us round to our next full moon ceremony next Thursday.

This practice encourages us to pay attention to the cycles of life, from the smallest – a gesture repeated three times a day – to the largest – the phases of the moon, the advent of the seasons – with any number in between  – it’s time to shave my head again. I remember during one Genzo-e, Shohaku was discussing the kanji for ‘the Way’, saying that while we think of a path as something that extends in front of us, in fact it was possible to interpret the kanji as having a circular element to it, so that the path brought you right back to where you were (of course he explained it much more eloquently and convincingly). So while we are always moving in space and time, really we are always coming back to ourselves, and while there are moments where we mark a particular transition – coming of age, a wedding, and ordination, there are also the moments where we are just doing the same old thing over and over again, getting up, eating,  going to work, bathing, going to bed. If we can be present in the same way for all of these activities, we can be carried along with the joyful energy of living.

What I think about when I am riding

As it happens, during the weeks leading up to my second trip to England this year, some of my focus was on the same things as prior to the first trip in April. I rode straight up Tam the day after the Genzo-e finished in August, and, as in the spring, it felt okay. I wrote to a friend that the ride reminded me of the days after sesshin at Tassajara, when I would run up to the top of the road, just to get out of the valley, and to give myself a physical challenge of a different order to sitting on a cushion incessantly for however many days it had been.

And so I thought about trying to ride up Mount Diablo before I left. Since my weekends these are often filled with things that don’t involve riding a bike – albeit lovely things like going to Wilbur, and leading roams – I realised that even from a relatively decent base of fitness, it was going to be hard to get enough meaningful rides in over the remaining few weeks to be able to get up Diablo without hurting too much.
I repeated the rides I had done in the spring, the typical rides I do when I want to get some climbing in my legs. There was a bonus in that the Bolinas-Fairfax road had opened again, after eighteen months of shoring up various parts of the hillside, so I had to opportunity to approach the seven sisters from both sides.
One thing I did not have to worry about, unlike last time, was the weather. There were rare thunderstorms and unseasonal rain a couple of weeks ago, but the weekend was warm and very clear once that faint autumnal chill had worn off.

It is one thing to contemplate riding up a mountain, and of course another thing to do it. It was only riding along the arroyo between the North Gate and the State Park boundary sign, where the climbing starts, that I felt fully on board with what was happening. And then there was an hour and more of continuous uphill to remind me of how real it was.
Overall, I felt better and stronger than than I might have expected. Knowing the climb well enough, I took care to manage my legs, and my intake of food and water, trying to stay relaxed as possible. There was an occasional twinge in my left knee that is new, and that I did not want to exacerbate. I did not expect the breeze to cool down quite so radically in the top half of the climb – I was almost tempted to put on my extra layer which I had brought for the descent, but conditions were pretty good, and the mountain felt quiet – which made for an unfettered descent down the more exhilarating South Gate Road.

And what was I thinking about? Actually, the Brahamviharas popped into my head as I passed someone around the 1000′ i also think it’s worth saying…elevation marker, where the road rears up a little. I feel a great kinship with anyone who is on a bike on the mountain, however much of it they are riding, so lots of loving-kindness, along with the nods, the little waves, and the encouraging words; compassion for those who seem to be struggling more than I am; sympathetic joy for those many riders who look strong on the uphill, and fluid on the descent; equanimity to endure all the differing gradients on the road up, and the giddiness of the long road down.