Mitsu Suzuki

Pleasure of organizing
small drawers –
year’s end


Shodo Harada

‘When the ego is affixed to something, we only see a very narrow view; when that something is let go of, a greater wisdom, a greater awareness, a greater ability to function is able to live through us and be present at each and every moment. It takes time to learn how to let go of that ego, but once we have experienced that place of freedom from it, we feel less threatened by the prospect of letting go of it and allowing that greater awareness to work through our lives. When we can let go of that ego at any given moment, rather than being left without the ability to function, we are full of a much greater wisdom. We are able to move and act and behave in a richer way because we are no longer caught by some idea of how things should be. ‘ (The Path to Bodhidharma)

I think this follows on nicely from Hongzhi’s expression yesterday. It is all too clear how the ego tricks us into thinking it is indispensable, but mostly that is just its fear manifesting, and eventually we can learn not to fall for that trick.


‘Traveling the world, meeting conditions, the self joyfully enters samadhi in all delusions and accepts its function, which is to empty out the self so as not to be full of itself.’ (Cultivating the Empty Field)

The footnote to this sentence points to Hongzhi’s expression pre-figuring Dogen’s exposition of jijuyu zanmai, and observes that ‘the Chinese compound that means enjoyment or fulfillment translates literally as “receive function.”‘ I have noted before how hard it was for me to get my head around jijuyu zanmaibut I think the idea that we can simply accept our function, our place in the world, makes things a lot clearer and smoother – and perhaps then we can enter samadhi in all delusions without thinking that somehow we should be doing something different.



Kobun Chino

‘Speaking and listening have the same quality as many of the sounds around us (a duck is quacking outside). That voice you can understand, even if it is not a human word. That sound of kitchen (chopping, ringing of pans) you can understand, even if it is not formal human language. Even when there are no words, there is teaching, so it is a little awkward to take the opportunity to speak. The whole thing is a little dusty. Without human language, all trees and all grasses know each other completely, and they are saying, “Let’s not think whether we know each other or not. We already do.”‘ (Embracing Mind)

Christmas with Coyotes

It would be an exaggeration to say that I was woken up on Christmas morning by coyotes howling on the hillsides around Wilbur at first light; I had already been awake for a couple of hours and had my breakfast. Still, the noise was not one I had ever heard before, nor one I associated with Christmas, and I took one of the free bikes and rode up toward the parking lot to see if I could see any of them, but in vain.
I have happy memories of childhood Christmases with my family, but since I am several thousand miles away from them these days, and have not been back in England for Christmas since 2005, I don’t really go for festivities so much any more. And much as I love the traditional carols (I invoked In The Bleak Midwinter during one of my little talks, since the bright, slightly chilly days of the weekend in the part of California we were in are a far cry from the colder, darker days of my upbringing), I am always happy to avoid the constant piping of festive music in the run-up to the 25th. Spending the season at Tassajara was always a great way to do that, and I was also reminiscing about a trip I took to Zanzibar in December twenty years ago, where the only carols I heard were at the airport in Doha, which seemed entirely incongruous.
Wilbur was a good place for that too; signs of the holidays were few and far between. There was plenty of good cheer, though that is almost always the case up there.
I was happy to have the chance, once again, to get out of the city, and start my quiet last week of the year with some sitting, some soaking, and some running.

The main building at Wilbur at first light on the 25th.

I didn’t take too many other pictures, but here are a couple of the creek – and a tributary – further up the valley.


‘Master Kasan quoted, “To study is mon [the character meaning ‘hear’]. To cut off study is rin [the character meaning ‘near’]. Above these two there is shin [the character meaning ‘true’].”
A monk asked, “What is shin like?”
Kasan answered, “To be able to beat the drum.”
The same monk asked again, “The essence of shin, what is it like?”
Kasan answered, “To be able to beat the drum.”
The monk asked once more, “I won’t ask about the-mind-as-it-is-being-Buddha, but the no-mind-no-Buddha, how about that?”
Kasan answered, “To be able to beat the drum.”
The monk asked again, “If a person who is earnestly and wholeheartedly seeking for the truth comes to you, how will you treat him?”
Kasan answered, “To be able to beat the drum.” (quoted in The Sound of One Hand)

Apparently the ‘answer‘ to this is ‘boom, boom, boom, boom’, and frankly I am not surprised, though to my taste, two ‘booms’ would be sufficient (perhaps recalling early memories). The monk exhausts all the stages he can think about, and still gets nothing special. Perhaps if he can burn through the seeking, the drum will appear for him, just waiting to be hit.

The Monastic Life

I don’t remember how exactly I came across this passage, but it was probably a couple of weeks ago while I was sifting through my computer archives for pictures that I could print out and send as Christmas cards. In any case, it comes from a letter that I wrote to a loved one in the spring of 2008, as I prepared to leave Tassajara after my second two-year stretch, before I moved to City Center to become the tenzo (I seem to recall, if you wonder why I would be writing on my laptop when Tassajara famously has no internet access, that I would put the words, and perhaps a few photos, on a thumb-drive, and send them out in the mail whenever Keith came in).
I was surprised to read these words, not for the content, which feels very familiar, and still true, but for the fact that I felt that way at the time – in the way I tell the story now, as I do on the Roaming Zen page here, I thought the feeling came more to light during my next spell of monastic training in 2012:

‘I do love life here, as you know, and have been thinking about how many amazing things have happened in the last month, it’s just that very few of them happened in the zendo. I just have to keep remembering that life here is not just about sitting, though I want to make the most of this opportunity to do so much, but also about the beautiful expeditions and the crazy weather, and the bathhouse and the stars and hot water bottles and playing with rocks and studying with a cup of coffee and all those other things.’

The ridge with snow.jpg
This is one of the pictures I sent family and friends for Christmas – the wonderful experience of driving out of Tassajara at the end of a three-month practice period and having deep, almost untouched snow up on the ridge. It was not like that when we went in last week

D laying concrete.jpg
I came across this picture from roughly that time period while looking for something else recently; it isn’t exactly playing with rocks, but it was part of putting together the largest wall I worked on at Tassajara, below the old bathhouse bathrooms, which had been washed away several times. With some help from a concrete crew – notably Antoine in the background, who was back at Tassajara this last practice period after some years away – I put in a mortared wall below where the hot spring water pipes ran, and then dry stone walling for the rest – the space on the left of the picture. It is almost entirely intact, though I didn’t top off robustly enough in a couple of places.