A Quick Wash and Brush Up

This blog has been active for a little over two and a half years, and I have typed out close to a thousand posts. It felt like it was time for a change. I hope you like it.
Apart from the appearance, one other thing I did was pay the good people at WordPress for an annual plan, which I have not done before. This should mean no more annoying ads popping up in the posts, but the main reason I did it was so that I could host audio on the site. I still have a few talks posted on Soundcloud, and those that are on the Zen Center site might as well stay there, but this will allow me to put a few more talks online, past and future. I may even have a separate place for some favourite photos.

The readership for this blog is not vast, and I am happy with the modesty of it all – if nothing else it is a good practice for me to keep reading and writing. Nevertheless, apart from sometimes marveling at how far-flung some of my readers are, I do occasionally get reminders of the impact the dharma can have. This week I got an email out of the blue from someone I know; I haven’t seen her in over a year, and I had no idea she was even a reader of the blog. She read the post by Zuiko Redding about skillful means, just as she had been writing to her family to confront them on traumatic events in her early life that she had just been painfully uncovering; as she said,”This led me to edit out as much of anger as I could and just leave what was true.”


Life is fleeting as dew
as lightning

How can I vainly deceive myself
seeking personal gain?

Taking things as they come
I respond accordingly

Eating my fill
and viewing the green mountains.


‘Good friends, your own mind taking refuge in your own essential nature is taking refuge in the real Buddha. Self-refuge means getting rid of bad states of mind in your own nature – jealousy, flattery, selfishness, deceptiveness, disregard for others, disrespect for others, false views, conceit, and any bad behavior that might take place at any time. Always seeing your own faults and not discussing others’ good or bad is self-refuge. One should always be humble in mind and respectful toward everyone. This is mastery of seeing essential nature, without any more obstruction. This is self-refuge.’ (The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Even the name of Buddhism is already a dirty spot on our practice. What is important is not the teaching, but the character or effort of the student. Even to seek for enlightenment means your mind is not big enough.’ (Not Always So)

This is the kind of quote that made me very curious about Buddhism and zen when I started to practise. How could seeking for enlightenment be wrong? How could the name of Buddhism be a dirty spot? In time I came to see how Suzuki Roshi was channeling similar sentiments expressed by Dogen, and other great teachers of the past. Putting a name on things limits them because we think the name is something we know, and is thus sufficient. Having an idea of enlightenment, and how you are going to get there, takes you astray from the heart of the practice – your own effort, moment after moment.

A few days after I wrote this, I was browsing in the Shobogenzo, as you do (at least if you are like me) and came across one such Dogen quote:

‘In this way, know that the buddha way that has been transmitted from past buddhas is not called Zen meditation, so how could there be the name “Zen School”? Clearly understand that is an extreme mistake to use the name “Zen School”‘ (Shobogenzo Butsudo)

Reb Anderson

‘We live in a mind that is generated in such a way that it appears to be knowing something other than itself. We are also given the gift of a mind that knows itself, a mind that is perceiving itself. If we can understand this, we understand suchness. We understand the way we really are.’  (The Third Turning of the Wheel)

Susan Piver

‘Here is what I suggest to my own students who are uncertain about what to do next in their spiritual practice: In addition to weighing the pros and cons of different teachers and communities, I ask them to pay close attention to the teachings themselves. They are of utmost importance. Do they mean something to you? Ask yourself over and over, what will deepen my personal practice? And then do that. Of course, if anyone tries to con you into thinking that they know you better than you know yourself, have a magical system which you may access once you prove worthy, and classify any doubts as an indication that you just don’t get it, you should run the f away.’ (The Teacher-Student Relationship: Liberating or a Trap?)

I have enjoyed reading Susan Piver’s articles in various places online, as a down-to-earth and thoughtful observer on relationships of all kinds.

Toni Packer

‘Why does one have to compare and pin a label on something that is going on? We do it all the time. But does anything really become clearer by being named and compared with something else? The important thing is to be directly aware of what is happening in the mind as it is happening – to be aware of comparison, for instance, and to observe its immediate effects. At the instant of comparison, where is the awareness? Hasn’t it been replaced by a narrow memory channel that now connects with all kinds of ideas, feelings and emotions?’ (The Work of This Moment)

It has been a while since I opened this book, but I stand by my previous comments.

Katagiri Roshi

‘Buddha put emphasis on being considerate to others before anything else. Why? Others are entirely identical with oneself. Oneself is entirely identical with others. You must be considerate to all sentient beings as if all sentient beings were within yourself. Do not kill all beings by judging others’ feelings by your own. If all sentient beings were your children, how would you take care of them? Others hold themselves beloved. One also holds oneself dear. Therefore to love oneself is to love others. Protecting oneself is the same as protecting others. The one who protects is not the self who is opposed to or conflicted with others.’ (From Wind Bell Vol X no. 1)

The universe offered me a serendipitous moment the other weekend. I was working on material for my second talk in San Rafael, and felt like it would be helpful to find the version of Samantabhadra’s Vows that Abbot Steve had given me at the end of my shuso practice period at Tassajara, so that I could use his wording in my talk. I knew it was in a trunk in the basement, in an envelope containing many other mementos from the practice period, from questions about compost to the list of everyone who sewed on the rakusu I was give.  I felt encouraged to gather up some letters and other papers to take down there while I was at it; I am very lazy about filing and organising these days, and things stay in little piles for months before I feel like sorting them. While I was doing this, I came across the small stack of old Wind Bell magazines that I had accumulated while I was at Zen Center. On the cover of one were the four Bodhisattva Vows in kanji, done by Katagiri Roshi. My knowledge of kanji is fairly superficial, but I know enough to recognise what they were. The whole slim magazine was given over to a series of talks given by him at Tassajara in 1970, presumably during the sesshin which ended the practice period (forty-two years before my shuso one), focused on the vows, but with other wonderful material as well; it was the line about killing others by judging their feelings by your own that jumped out most strongly at me.

Four Vows in kanji
A scan of the Wind Bell cover.


Asking without knowing.
Answering, still not understanding.
The moon is cold, the wind is high –
On the ancient cliff, frigid juniper.
How delightful: on the road he met a man who had attained the Path,
And didn’t use speech or silence to reply.
His hand grasps the white jade whip.
And smashes the black dragon’s pearl.
If he hadn’t smashed it,
He would have increased its flaws.
The nation has a code of laws –
Three thousand articles of offenses.

Zuiko Redding

‘To use skillful means – beneficial action – means to see and consider before we act. What has made this situation what it is? What are its origins? How can this tangle of causes and conditions be unraveled? If we look closely, we may see things we don’t want to see. We have to take into account that the most beneficial action might include aspects we don’t want to include. We might need to associate with people we’d rather avoid or do things that are difficult and dreary.
This entails letting go of what we want or what we think is useful and allow reality to tell us what to do rather than imposing our ideas on it. In his remarks on giving, Dōgen speaks of offering ourselves to ourselves and offering others to others. We help by helping others become and be who they are. We offer what they see as helpful and can be used to make their lives what they want them to be.’ (from Ancient Way Journal)

I confess that there are not many blogs that I follow closely, but this is one that I found to have rewarding articles in regularly. Zuiko Redding is talking about Dogen’s The Four Elements of a Bodhisattva’s Social Relations (in the translation she uses) which I have been pondering myself this year. It gives me an excuse to plug the talk I gave on the subject back in January in San Rafael, and to mention that I have uploaded the talk I gave on Monday at the same location, the second of four about the Bodhisattva vows.