Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘When the journey of finding home takes ancestral homelessness into account, we begin to understand the need for sanctuary in a new way. The hunger for home is deeply layered. When seeking a vision of being healed, multi-generational displacement motivates within some of us a desire for our indigenous lands of origin, or to create sanctuary or shared community with those of similar ancestral origin, places where we can enter life fully without fear. We need places to breathe and heal our disconnection from the earth. Our spiritual journey requires us, first of all, to understand the pain and loss of our ancestral identity and to experience the extent to which we have wandered. This loss of our homes is in our bones and begs to be acknowledged, not merely transcended.’ (Sanctuary)

I don’t have any way of knowing what the African-American experience feels like. As a white European who chose to live in California, I can feel some longing for my homeland. My ancestral home – a place I did not grow up – is, and was always, readily available to visit, and I have thought of living there one day in the future. Reading this passage encouraged me to stretch my small understanding of this feeling, to try to imagine how it deep its impact can be. This is the work that those of us in positions of privilege need to do  – to listen to those who come from a place of less privilege, without trying to gainsay their experience of being themselves (something privilege lends people to doing), and to practise feeling what the world feels like from that perspective.

Old Leaves and New Frames

Despite just landing back in my regular life in San Francisco, I was looking forward to getting away to Wilbur for a weekend. For the first time in several visits, I did not having anything scheduled on Friday morning, and having already picked up the car from my generous benefactors, I was free to leave town whenever I felt ready, and get well ahead of the traffic. Since I was starting in the city, I took the 101 to Santa Rosa, then crossed to Calistoga, and continued through Middletown and past Clearlake to Highway 20.

At my ease, I felt the shifts in geographies and cultures as I headed from the city, through the smart suburbs of Marin, the more regional towns, and then the cabins and ranches of Lake County. It was also the first time I had been that way in at least six months; the last time, the devastation of the fires had been very clear, with scorched landscapes and burnt out houses along the Mark West Springs Road. Now it was in transformation – everywhere were the pale fresh wood colours of new frames and panels for houses, though very few were finished, and house numbers were still spray-painted on plywood boards by the roadside.

As I approached Wilbur, the traces of the summer’s fires were also still clear in the hillsides along Highway 20, and the burnt landscape added a more sinister tinge to the autumnal colours; down at the springs, life continued in the normal tranquil way. It was nice to hang out with my friends on site, and to enjoy the autumnal warmth. The temperatures hit the eighties during the day on Friday and Saturday, and the nights were not as cold as I might have expected, so it felt like another coda to the summer.

On Friday, after arriving and settling for an hour, I decided to have a crack at the ridge trail; it went about as well as possible, as I paced myself up the long steady climb of the schoolhouse trail, and the steeper climbs along the ridge, before marvelling in the views, to Mount Konocti, Mount St Helena which I had just crossed in the car, the notch in the Cache Creek Canyon walls, and across the Central Valley to the east.

It was not especially busy, but I had nice groups on Saturday, finding words to say as I sat, hoping to communicate something useful. During the day I had seen someone reading Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, so I used that phrase as a jumping-off point, not just in terms of compassion for ourselves and others, but in terms of meeting each moment as it unfolds for us. On Sunday I saw someone with Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind at the pools, and somehow expected that he might want to join the meditation; when he didn’t show, I gave perhaps a rather pointed talk to those who did come and sit about the value of practice rather than just reading about practice.

On Sunday morning it was cloudier; a brief flash of orange and pink in the sky before the sunrise, with the waning moon still high in the sky. That presaged a milder day; there was a flurry of day guests for a few hours, their energy noticeably more busy than those who had been overnight, the volume higher as well – when they were gone, a sense of peace returned. At the end of the afternoon I took myself for another run – and this time managed to navigate the route that had been perplexing me since I started coming regularly: I headed down to the bridge, followed the trail up to the very pretty terraced springs. I had been there once before, but had lost my nerve with the unclear trail before finding the way up to Coyote Peak. This time I followed the crook of the valley until I came to the power lines (a more reliable way-mark than anything else in this system of valleys). There was a little wood and tin structure that may have been a cattle feeder, and right there, a clear trail leading up to the peak, shared by rocky outcroppings and a pylon, which I had seen from many different angles on previous wanderings. When I returned to the valley, there was another trail leading me up the other side, and, after crossing a couple of other heads of valleys – I imagined water courses running back down towards Wilbur – I easily came to the place I had decided to turn around at on my last visit, and then downhill past the cemetery and back along the well-known track to the baths.

As is my wont, I left before light on Monday, and had an easy drive back to the city, though I then had adventures with a broken key and long BART delays; I still managed to make it to the Embarcadero to sit with Zach by the water, joined by a couple of regulars and a drop-in, and on to the jail later, with the largest group yet.

DSCF4118Bright gingko leaves in the central area.

DSCF4135These last leaves had gone after the windier weather on Sunday.

DSCF4116Autumnal colours along the creek on Bear Valley Road.

DSCF4142A flash of dawn on the Bear Valley Road on Monday morning.

Suzuki Roshi

So you may ask, ‘What is the real teaching of Buddha?’ If you don’t understand it you will keep asking, ‘What is it? What is it? What does it mean?’ You are just seeking for something you can understand. We don’t exist in that way. Dogen Zenji says, ‘There is no bird who flies knowing the limit of the sky. There is no fish who swims knowing the end of the ocean’. We exist in the limitless universe. Sentient beings are numberless, and our desires are limitless, but we still have to continue making our effort just as a fish swims and a bird flies. So Dogen Zenji says, ‘A bird flies like a bird; a fish swims like a fish’. That is the bodhisattva’s way, and that is how we observe our practice.’ (Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness)


My mind is like the autumn moon
Shining clean and clear in the green pool.
No, that’s not a good comparison.
Tell me, how shall I explain?

Gesshin Greenwood

‘In the Zen tradition especially, there is a lot of emphasis places on “not thinking.” In Fukanzazengi (Universal Instructions for Zazen) Dogen Zenji wrote, “Think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Non-thinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen.” Most teachers of Zen, in Japan at least, will tell you that Zen is “not about thinking,” and that practice is something you primarily do with your body. This is pertinent advice for Westerners especially, who seem to come in with lots of intellectual questions they want to answer, and seem less willing to clean the floor and sit silently for ten years. So generally the advice given is to just practice without trying to understand what’s happening, because the only way to actually learn something is to engage with the thing itself without adding your own idea. If you add your own idea, then you’re just engaging with your idea, not the thing you’re trying to learn.’ (Bow First, Ask Questions Later)



‘Communing with the source, travel the pathways, embrace the territory and treasure the road. ‘ (Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi)

This couplet has been on my mind recently – perhaps because of all the travel I have been doing. It is, of course, not really about geography, any more than Dogen’s ‘why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands?’ from the Fukanzazengi. As with the rest of Dongshan’s poem, it is holding the absolute and the relative in equal proportion.

Perfection of Wisdom Sutra

‘Toward all beings maintain unbiased thoughts and speak unbiased words. Toward all beings give birth to thoughts and words of kindness instead of anger, compassion instead of harm, joy instead of jealousy, equanimity instead of prejudice, humility instead of arrogance, sincerity instead of deceit, compromise instead of stubbornness, assistance instead of avoidance, liberation instead of obstruction, kinship instead of animosity.’

There are times, and this is one of them, when it feels easy to despair about the venality of the human race, the amount of self-interest that leads to inequalities, of anger that leads us into chasms of sniping and othering, all while the planet is sinking into irrevocable harm. And when I think of the words I can apply, I recognise that they are the words Buddha categorised as the Three Poisons: greed, hatred and delusion. Then I can say to myself, it was ever thus with humans. And Buddha prescribed ways to conduct ourselves in hard times – and which times have ever not been hard? These words are quoted in Red Pine’s commentary on the Diamond Sutra, as they answer a question that Subhuti has about how a Bodhisattva should behave.
There is a part of us that knows that this is the path to reducing suffering, and we would wish for everyone to have that realisation, even while we acknowledge that this wish, like the Bodhisattva Vows, is impossible to carry out. We can just keep trying, every moment, and reminding ourselves when we forget.

Frank Ostaseski

‘We often confuse acceptance with approval. Acceptance is a loving act of an open heart. Approval is generally tied up with judgment. Our hunger for approval is partly why we are so easily hooked by the critic. We try to fend off unworthiness by seeking our value from external authorities whose voices we long ago internalized. We try to satisfy the enormity of our wanting through accumulation. We hope that if we get enough, do enough, change enough, one day we will finally be enough.’ (The Five Invitations)

Kobun Chino

‘There are many contemplative practices: Moonlight sitting, sunlight sitting, snow sitting, rain sitting. Whatever nature’s condition is, you sit in it and find out both what it is and what is yourself.’ (Embracing Mind)

I noted this one as a great quote for Roaming Zen – though it would be better to substitute fog for snow around these parts. See also last Sunday’s poem.


‘The Reality that these teachings are pointing toward is not hidden, or secret, or far away. You cannot earn it, deserve it, or figure it out. At this very moment, Reality and completeness are in plain sight.’ (The Way of Liberation)

Alongside this wonderful expression, I also recently copied a quote, although from where I cannot now remember:

‘The manifestation of our conscious experience is in large part determined by the linguistic concepts we use to understand the world around us. These concepts categorize our experience, which in turn allows us to impose artificial boundaries on reality so we can make it a little more coherent as we move through life.’

Our practice is to move from the latter way of experiencing the world to the former.