‘A monk asked, “Why did the First Ancestor come from the west?”
Sansheng said, “Spoiled meat draws flies.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

Zenkei Blanche Hartman

‘This question comes up again and again throughout Zen history, “What is it?” Please investigate this: “What is it?” “What is it you’re doing here?” I don’t ask you to look for the words for it. Words are secondary. I want you to find the feel of it. I want you to find the fire of it. I want you to touch the source of your life force, to feel the joy and the love that can come from living from the source of your being.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)

I love how inspiring Blanche is here; I can just hear her exhortatory voice proclaiming this in the Buddha Hall. ‘Words are secondary’ is always a good thing to remember.

Shodo Harada

‘All people in society need to realize this true human nature – not Buddha, or God, or that self that yearns for sex, fame, and money, but that which would be naturally respected by anyone who came in contact with it. Directly feeling the great depth and clarity of this true human nature, we bow not only to God and to Buddha but to that holy human quality that does not come from a life spent napping and yawning.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)


This Very Beginner’s Mind

I have a new commute these days, to a different part of the East Bay, on those three days a week where I am doing what I usually refer to as my day job.
I am still getting used to this: I miss the regular driver on the train I used to catch; on the other hand, the journey is ten minutes shorter each way. This gives me an extra hour a week of free time, and I am watching to see how long it takes me to forget that. There are also more direct trains running in that direction, so I don’t need to stress about rushing to catch one, which I often did on the way home from the previous location.
I am starting to learn my way around the new neighbourhood we are working in; the bike ride from BART is just a few blocks, but does involve crossing railway tracks, heading under a freeway and crossing one of the exit roads, as well as some very long traffic lights, and road surfaces that are mostly completely worn out and bumpy. I have been trying different routes to see which feels better, or safer, or slightly faster. Eventually all this will solidify into habit, but right now it still feels very fresh and alive.

On a separate note, I have posted the last of the four talks on the Bodhisattva Vows that I gave in San Rafael; they are all available on the audio page.

Bernard Glassman

‘We don’t practice to attain enlightenment, just as we don’t eat or breathe to be alive. Because we’re alive, we breathe. Because we’re alive, we eat. Because we’re enlightened, we do zazen. Dogen says that zazen is a manifestation of the enlightened state. We practice and recognize everything we do as a manifestation of the enlightened state.’ (Instructions to the Cook)

Suzuki Roshi

‘You think that you can only establish true practice after you attain enlightenment, but it is not so. True practice is established in delusion, in frustration. If you make some mistake, that is where to establish your practice. There is no other place for you to establish your practice.’ (Not Always So)

As in other realms, ideas of ‘perfection’ get in the way of being who we are, and living as who we are, wholeheartedly.

Between the clouds

July is generally fog season in San Francisco, but this year we are having more sunshine than I am used to, thankfully. Trump may still be government by apoplexy, Brexit may still be an omnishambles, and the collision of the two this week has not been pretty, but the jacaranda trees are flowering throughout the Mission, the purple flowers glowing in the bright blue skies.

This weather does make motivating myself to get out on a ride much easier. After a nice outing on the 4th, over to Stinson Beach and back along Highway 1, and a couple of my favourite short hilly loops last weekend, to San Bruno Mountain and the Headlands, when my scheduled teaching event was postponed yesterday, I decided to take myself off for a nice long ride and leave the weekend a little more free for the last games in the World Cup. Having given my last talk of the series in San Rafael on Monday, and taught the last class of the series at City Center the next night, I feel a certain amount more space than I have since I returned from Tassajara.

There are certain rides that I can use as a benchmark for my fitness, and Alpine is one of them – that one word serves as shorthand that local cyclists use and recognise. I expect it to take four and a half hours, and there are three big sections of climbing, two of which I usually enjoy. I had a sense of apprehension starting the ride, having not been so far for a few months, and started gently, trying to keep more in reserve for later. As it happened, I felt much better than I expected to, especially on the second climb, away from the dam, where tiredness can really start to take its toll. There was very little traffic on and around the mountain, a pleasant change from weekends these past few years, where there seem to be a lot of drivers impatient enough to pass too close or try to pass on blind corners. Since I am free next Friday as well, I may well try to tackle an ascent of Tam that day.

It was a lovely warm morning, with high clouds, and, as I climbed high enough, I could see the mist sitting over the ocean below me, and later, nestled in the Muir Woods Valley. I was surprised, though, as I started my descent from the shoulder of Tam, to feel a few drops of rain falling. Luckily that did not amount to anything, and it stayed warm.

It is rides like this that remind me I am very much in my element on a bike, just as I feel on the trails at Tassajara. Steady effort on the climbs through peaceful trees, a sense of liberation as I coast downhill, the joy of body memory as I navigate corners and well-loved stretches of road, watching a kingfisher glide over the surface of Alpine Lake. And afterwards, feeling the benign emptiness of complete physical exhaustion.

The beautiful sunset on Thursday night presaged the high clouds on Friday.

Mumon Yamada

‘Ordinary people are out working so they carry on their daily lives without thinking that their own unreal thoughts are unreal. But try doing a little zazen and you will realize how full of unreal thoughts humans are. Such unnecessary useless thinking!’ (Talks on the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures)

Reading this again, it might sound a little harsh. Thoughts are real in themselves, but I would say that generally we spend too much time conjuring up scenarios that have no basis in reality and only serve to wear us down.


The zen master Kassan Zenne was asked by a monk, “What is the Way?”
Kassan said, “The sun floods the eye; not a fleck of cloud for ten thousand miles.”
The monk said, “I do not understand.”
Kassan said, “In the clear water, the wandering fish deludes itself.”

Where does the fish think it is? Where do you think you are? Where do you think the Way is?