Blanche Hartman

This is a repost, but when I was looking for words I had written about Blanche for my Patreon post, I came across this post and wanted to offer it again. I know I am basically expressing the same thing again, but it was one of my most valuable lessons from living in community:

‘When I first met Suzuki Roshi, I thought, “I want to be like him!” The best teacher for you is someone who inspires you by the wisdom and compassion you see in the teacher as she or he goes about daily life and interacts with the people around her or him.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)

I think I have mentioned before that one of the things that made me feel comfortable in my first few months at Zen Center, when I was living a new and unfamiliar life in a new country, was that I could look at the teachers and see heart-warming examples of how I wanted to live and grow old. Blanche was perhaps foremost among those, especially in terms of how she went about her daily life, which as I have always maintained, taught me as much as anything she said from the dharma seat – the miraculous activity talked about the other day.

Mountain Seat - Blanche soji copy
This is not the first time I have used this picture, but it illustrates the point perfectly. On the morning of the 2012 Mountain Seat ceremony, Blanche busied herself cleaning the main hallway, just because it needed doing, and she was there to do it.

Katagiri Roshi

‘Spiritual practice must be carried out quietly and calmly because a passage to freedom opens to you only when you deal with right now, right here. So under all circumstances, whatever feeling, emotion, or idea your dualistic human consciousness has produced, just accept it. Then, next, don’t attach to it, just let it go, let it return to oneness. Then you can return to oneness. This is nothing but practice in action. This practice is naturally pure and clean. So right in the middle of sitting zazen, try to receive your body and mind and use them in peace and harmony.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

Is this week’s theme becoming clearer?

Shodo Harada

‘Where this idea of enlightenment often becomes a problem is when everyone reads the writings of both the old and the present-day masters and they take this one experience and place it in a conceptual framework. They just pluck out the idea of this excellent or seemingly magical experience and think, “That’s what I want.” What is overlooked are the years of practice and, behind that one experience, the years of very plain learning and cutting through everything and anything that comes along before that clarified state of mind is experienced. Today, people take drugs to induce the very same states of mind that a person can reach in the midst of deep meditation. But to use drugs to reach such states of mind is like riding a helicopter to the top of a mountain. When you reach the top of the mountain you can see the scenery. But you will not know the essence one experiences in the process of walking up the mountain one footstep at a time; you do not know how to reach the top of the mountain on your own.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)

Recently I was discussing with one of my diligent and sincere students some experiences he had had after a month or so of mostly solo retreat time; he shared with me some links to articles he had found where people try to make sense of their own experiences, and which he found helpful in understanding and finding words for his. All I could really add was that this experience was now a part of him, and even if he sometimes forgot, on the surface, the profound feelings he had and the states of broad loves he dwelled in for a time, the rest of his life would still be more or less coloured by it, and that over time, would probably get to feel more integrated.

In some of the articles I read, there seemed to be a certain amount of what we call in England ‘willy-waving’, that male competitiveness that is tiresome at the best of times, and even more so when it comes to intently comparing levels of ‘attainment.’ At the risk of being repetitive, I will link to Gesshin’s article that I also linked to yesterday, and, more in reference to Shodo Harada’s words, to other words of hers I have posted; not to mention another post about the current use of psychedelics. Perhaps it is the smug hindsight of having been practising for almost twenty years, but really there is no substitute for continuous practice.




‘When Master Hakuin was invited to the town of Shinano, an enlightened laywoman by the name of Asan (“Old San”) went to see him. Hakuin greeted her by silently holding up one hand.
Asan immediately responded, “Even better than hearing Hakuin’s sound of one hand, let’s clap both hands and do some real business.”
Hakuin replied, “If you can do business by clapping both hands, then there’s no need to hear the sound of one.” He picked up paper and brush and painted a bamboo broom.
He passed it to Asan, and she wrote:

This broom
Sweeps away
All the imposters in Japan –
First of all
Hakuin of Hara!’

(The Hidden Lamp)

I was prompted to pick The Hidden Lamp again by a student sending me a quote from it that illuminated the discussion we had been having. This is a great story that typifies the no-nonsense approach of women practising in Japan. As it happens, this was a story chosen by Laurie Senauke, who is currently the shuso at Tassajara – I am just working out my plans to go to the different upcoming shuso ceremonies at all three centres, and will see if the current crop, who are all women, are as brisk with their business as Asan.


‘Your body sits silently; your mind quiescent, unmoving. Your mouth is so still that moss grows around it. Grass sprouts from your tongue. Do this without cease, cleansing the mind until it gains the clarity of an autumn pool, bright as the moon illuminating the evening sky.’ (quoted in The Poetry of Enlightenment)

I took this book on my last trip to Wilbur, and enjoyed reading from it at quiet moments. I didn’t think that this would be a good passage to share at a meditation instruction, but for more experienced sitters, I think the image would be inspiring. If not, stick with what Gesshin and Brad have offered (or you could even listen to what I have to say on the subject).

Shoei Andro

Takes you to the bottom
Of the heart;
Knocks the bottom


(Djinn had this on her wall in Belfast, and said she had it from Blanche.)

A Rainbow over the Golden Gate

Rain arrived as forecast on Wednesday, and it felt like a deliverance. The air was markedly different, adding an extra depth to the sense of freshness that rain can bring. I was reminded of this time of year at Tassajara, sitting in the zendo, and hearing the first rain of the winter falling, first as a distant rustling noise further along the valley, then closer, and then noisily landing on the tin roof of the zendo. There was a tangible feeling of relief in the room – just for the first rain, mind; at other times, especially for those in unheated cabins with no way of getting clothes dry, it could be pretty wearing.

For the first time in months I had to deal with riding my bike to and from BART in the morning in wet weather gear. Luckily it had moved on by the evening, and on Thanksgiving morning, there was some sunshine and warmth. I took myself out on my bike down to Ocean Beach, from where I saw the rainbow off to the north, and back via Twin Peaks, enjoying once again the wonderful view right across downtown and over to the East Bay, rendered that little bit more dramatic by the mix of sun and shadow that the cloud-filled sky offered – something I associate more with England, where that kind of sky is so much more common.

I had been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner by Mike, one of the very first Young Urban Zen students, and walked across the city to his place. It was remarkably quiet, outside of the main thoroughfares (Oak and Fell, Geary and Gough) and I appreciated how the volume goes way down when there is less traffic on the street, to the extent that the city felt much more spacious than usual. The rain came sweeping back in during the evening, and I was glad of a ride back with Tal, another YUZ alumnus, now a proud father of a six-month-old daughter who had been very present for much of the dinner.

On Friday I had no particular place to be – much more inclined to a Buy Nothing Day than participating in Black Friday (which has reached England, even though there is no holiday to make it relevant). I was glad to spend the morning listening to the rain, letting the warm damp breeze waft through open doors and windows after a week where everything had been closed up. It was a good day for writing, cleaning, organising, and later, heading out for a run, which I have always enjoyed more in the rain than riding.

The daylight was fading, as was the volume of rain, and the city was steeped in damp mist. Running for an hour cleared my head, as it often does, and I took in what is almost my default route these days – south on Castro to Billy Goat Hill and Diamond Heights, then back via Glen Canyon, Portola and Market. There are three satisfying climbs on the way out, and a good amount of dirt. It was not a typical Friday afternoon: people were relaxed and more inclined to say hello (a typical feature of holidays it seems – but why not every day?). The near silence of the streets again got me thinking, as I often do these days, of how much city space is given over to cars – not just the freeways and the roads, and the roadside parking, but the garages, parking lots, multi-storey car parks, gas stations, repair shops (especially in San Francisco, huge quantities of these persevere in formerly light industrial areas that are now ridiculously expensive real estate) – and the psychic space given over to the bustle and noise. I thought of the huge aspiration gap in car commercials (perhaps more than for other products), where the pictured independence and assertive identity of driving on unencumbered roads is exchanged for isolation in might-as-well-be-identical vehicles angrily stagnating in jammed lanes of traffic (and yes I was still glad to be driven home last night, though I could have walked or taken a bus as I had planned to). It was my first run in three weeks, so I was glad to be out for an hour, feeling, as I did several times in England, like I was hauling around the extra weight of the unusual amount of food I had eaten.

DSCF4364Approaching rain clouds from the vantage point of St Mary’s cathedral on Thursday.


‘Although “nirvana”, “tathagata”, and “the diamond prajna-paramita” are different names, they are all uncreated dharmas. Created dharmas are the dharmas of the world. Uncreated dharmas are the dharmas that transcend the world. Often, people who cultivate think that uncreated dharmas refer to emptiness or stillness, and they turn their minds and bodies into ashes and deadwood and think they are practicing Buddhism. But all they are doing is trying to catch the wind or kick a shadow. They are lost and deluded people.’ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)

Joanna Macy

‘The great open secret of gratitude is that it is not dependent on external circumstance. It’s like a setting or channel that we can switch to at any moment, no matter what’s going on around us. It helps us connect to our basic right to be here, like the breath does. It’s a stance of the soul. In systems theory, each part contains the whole. Gratitude is the kernel that can flower into everything we need to know.

Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more—more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us. Elders of indigenous cultures have retained this knowledge, and we can learn from their practices.’ (from Lion’s Roar, and a seasonally-appropriate repost)


‘Life in this very moment right now is the pivotal state of enlightenment. The pivotal state of enlightenment is this very moment of life right now. Life isn’t something that comes, nor is life something that goes away. Life isn’t the experience of the present moment, and life isn’t the realization of that experience.

Thus, life is limitless potential. And death is limitless potential.

There are countless realities inside you. Among these there is life, and there is death. Just quietly think about it for a bit. Is your own present life and the countless realities within it part of life itself or not part of life itself? There isn’t any instant or any real occurrence that isn’t part of life itself. There’s not one thing or even so much as a single state of mind that is not part of life itself.’ (Shobogenzo Zenki – Brad Warner’s translation)