Rachel Naomi Remen

‘I am reminded that death, like love, is intimate, and that intimacy is the condition of the deepest learning’. (foreword to The Five Invitations)

A friend of mine who works in the field offered me their copy of Frank Ostaseski’s book, which is my commute read, now that I have got to the end of The Third Turning of the WheelExpect to see more passages from it over the coming weeks.

Living In Vow

On Monday I will be giving the first of four dharma talks in San Rafael. I had in mind to speak about the four Bodhisattva Vows. I don’t imagine I will be able to exactly cover one vow per talk, though that was part of my initial thinking; I am guessing (not having put pen to paper yet, but having been turning ideas over in my head for a couple of months), that the first talk will mostly be about the vows, why we take them, and how to deal with the impossibility of them.

One of the first things that came to mind was Katagiri Roshi’s poem, A Peaceful Life, which I posted a couple of years ago – and again find no reason not to bring it back to the front page.

Being told that is impossible
One believes, in despair, “Is that so?”
Being told it is possible,
One believes, in excitement, “That’s right.”
But, whichever is chosen,
It does not fit one’s heart neatly.
Being asked, What is unfitting?”
I don’t know what it is.
But my heart knows somehow.
I feel an irresistible desire to know.
What a mystery “human” is.
As to this mystery:
Clarifying,
Knowing how to live,
Knowing how to walk with people,
Demonstrating and teaching,
This is the Buddha.
From my human eyes,
I feel it’s really impossible to become a Buddha.
But this “I,” regarding what the Buddha does,
Vows to practice,
To aspire,
To be resolute,
And tells myself, “Yes I will.”
Just practice right here now,
And achieve continuity,
Endlessly, forever.
This is living in vow.
Herein is one’s peaceful life found.

Assuming that most of my readers are not in striking distance of San Rafael, I will try to put a recording up soon after the event.

angel Kyodo williams

‘Spirituality and responsible living are not objects that can be found somewhere outside yourself. They are not at a monastery and they definitely don’t wear robes. You can’t catch enlightenment like a virus, and no one can give it away. If there ever comes a time when you feel like you have to go someplace to find a better you and you’re going any farther than the mirror, don’t take another step.’ (Being Black)

Hongzhi

‘In clarity the wonder exists, with spiritual energy shining on its own. It cannot be grasped, and so cannot be called being. It cannot be rubbed away and so cannot be called nonbeing. Beyond the mind of deliberation and discussion, depart from the realms of the shadowy images. Emptying one’s sense of self-existence is wondrous. This wonder is embodied with a spirit that can be enacted and invoked.’ (Cultivating the Empty Field)

Suzuki Roshi

‘People often think it would be best to study Zen in Japan, but this is rather difficult. “Why don’t you stay at Zen Center?” I ask them. If you go to Japan mostly you will encourage them to build more new buildings. They may be very happy to see you, but it is a waste of time and money, and you will be discouraged because you cannot find a good Zen master. Even if you find a teacher, it will be difficult to understand him and study with him.’ (Not Always So)

I had occasionally had the idea during my early years of practice, that it might be better to ‘go to the source’ and try to practise in Japan. Living at Tassajara, I realised that all the conditions I needed were right there.
Somewhere I seem to remember reading that Suzuki Roshi thought there were maybe a dozen good teachers in Japan in his day; his somewhat cheeky statement here notwithstanding, he still sent a few of his students off to train at Eiheiji for a couple of years, as he had done in his youth.
This passage is commenting on a line from the Fukanzazengi. I looked back to see if I had posted that previously, and came up with this quote from Blanche, along with my response, which will serve very well in this case.

Jakushitsu

The valley stream supplies tea kettle water
Mountain flowers sometimes enhance the fragrance of pagodas
Sitting on my torn cushion lacking nothing
I watch the evening sun hanging over the wood.

Reb Anderson

‘Originally mind isn’t divided into self and other, but once that split occurs, the self needs something to hang on to. It doesn’t work very well for the self to identify with the active consciousnesses because they are always changing. It can’t hold on to the other, that doesn’t work either. It’s born of the other, but it can’t identify with the other. Awareness itself isn’t a very good home, because if you look at it, it is ungraspable vastness. Where the self seems to find a home is in alaya [storehouse consciousness], the field from which all the concepts are made. There is a vague sense of something deeply subconscious that is always going on. It’s not the self, but it’s something you can hook the idea of self on to.’ (The Third Turning of the Wheel)

Embodying The Dharma

The second and last shuso ceremony of this season was at Green Gulch on Monday. Zachary and I had consulted, and figured that we could pack up our cushions, head on over right after the lunch-time outdoor sit, and be there in good time; it all worked out as well as we had hoped.
It was a lovely spring day at Green Gulch, just as it had been the Monday before at Tassajara, and I got pretty warm in the zendo as we sat through the questions and congratulations.
I have been to a few shuso ceremonies there now, but mostly I haven’t been able to stay for dinner. Zachary took off after the ceremony, but luckily Tova offered me a later ride, meaning I could stay and chat, and then indulge in the the pizza and ice cream, which, as I hadn’t really had any lunch, went down very well.
Bryan was the shuso; he and I go back a dozen years, as he arrived at Tassajara in 2006 – along with Thiemo and Steph, who were around at Green Gulch with their two adorable kids – right when I was settling in for my second two-year stretch. Mostly what I remember, and very fondly, are the many hours we spent running together on the trails over those two years; he had to wait for me often enough, being quite a few years younger as well as being a great natural athlete. I can only remember one time, the No Race in 2008, when he was off-form, and I was almost slowing for him so we could finish together. There were many other adventures as well, especially around the 2008 fire, as we scouted on the peaks, climbing Hawk Mountain or the Tony Trail every day.
I haven’t heard him give a dharma talk yet, so I don’t know how he fares in that respect, but I know that he was a great monk, throwing himself whole-heartedly into everything, and embodying the teaching just by doing that. And that is what it is all about, at least in my book.

Down into the clouds 3
I am very glad that I took my camera on some of the runs we did. This was a morning we ran to the top of the road, and in doing so climbed above the cloud level, which was at about 3000 feet, into clear blue skies. Running back down into the clouds was quite dream-like.

Bryan Tony Trail
This was a particularly narrow and slippery part of the Tony Trail. Guessing that this was the same run as the next picture, we would have climbed at least 3000′ by then, climbing the Tony Trail from both sides.

Bryan at the horse camp upper Willow Creek
This was a lovely section of oak meadow up Willow Creek, past the other end of the Tony trail, about five miles from Tassajara.

Bryan descends Hawk Mountain
After the 2008 fire, Bryan and I climbed up Hawk Mountain and discovered that nothing was left of the old telephone transmitter. Then we scrambled down again.

Driving the road day 1 Bryan hits the mountain
One time I had got a Suburban stuck in a ditch in the snow as I tried to drive Jordan out. I ran a couple of miles back down to Tassajara and Bryan brought up the lumber truck with the winch, but even that struggled nearer the top. We eventually gave up, and tried again the next day.

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Bryan with Fu and Zenju, who were co-leading the practice period at Green Gulch.

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Bryan, with Mako (who was a big part of those years at Tassajara), helping the dish crew by saving on dishes.

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There were more flowers on the farm than on my last visit.

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Dharma friends on the path. I suspect this will get used in many Zen Center publications…

Xuansha

‘Xuansha was informally addressing his monastics when he heard a swallow singing. He said to the assembly, “This is the profound dharma of real form. It skillfully conveys the essence of the true teaching.” He then descended down from the teaching seat.
A monastic asking for an explanation said, “I don’t understand.”
Xuansha said, “Go away. No-one will believe you.”‘ (Shinji Shobogenzo)

I have posted this before, and make no apologies for doing so again. I reflect on this story frequently, and won’t add the same comment as I did a couple of years ago. These days I associate the story with Glen Canyon, as I read it out on the first roam that we did along the canyon, and decided to repeat it at the following visit. I gave it an airing in the most recent roam as well, as we sat on the logs by Islais creek, which was running freely. A couple of girls were playing barefoot with sticks, making a suitable amount of noise for their fun, and behind us a pair of large ravens were picking at a log. When we started walking again, I heard a woodpecker up a in tree.
What else do you think conveys the essence of the true teaching?

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘For many, the spiritual paths should tend toward the invisible, the unseen. With this view it is easy to mistake a favorable blindness – not seeing skin color, gender, etc. – for seeing an invisible truth of life. We may even consider this blindness to be a higher state of being. But the wisdom in my bones says that we need this particular body, with its unique color, shape, and sex, for liberation to unfold. There is no experience of emptiness without interrelationship. In meditation the wisdom deep in my bones tells me that I do not have to fight against someone or something to gain my life. I have already been given a fully liberated life. In stillness I glimpse the freedom that is already there.’  (The Way of Tenderness)

And more.