The Tenth Grave Precept

I vow not to disparage the Three Treasures. (Zen Center)

Experience the intimacy of things. Do not defile the Three Treasures. (Zen Mountain Monastery)

To expound the dharma with this body is foremost. The virtue returns to the ocean of reality. It is unfathomable; we just accept it with respect and gratitude. (Dogen’s commentary)

This precept has never especially resonated with me, although I understand its necessity as part of maintaining harmonious practice, and not allowing anyone claiming to be a buddhist while denigrating the actual cornerstones of Buddhism.

However, Dogen’s commentary has long been one of my favourite formulations, especially the first line, which is clearest. Training in a temple or a monastery, you eventually come to understand that the practice is a physical one more than a mental or philosophical one – through our sitting, our deportment, our bowing and chanting, our working. Since it is impossible to explain this, the best we can do is demonstrate it. I always speak of how Blanche taught me so much when she was abbess, not so much from the dharma seat as how she showed up for daily life in the temple, and how she behaved in many different circumstances, from the most formal to the most mundane. Her husband Lou had that first sentence written on his priest’s rakusu, which he wore all day, as he stepped in to wash dishes, tidy up the newspapers in the residents’ lounge, or take care of an altar. There are others, some who are exalted teachers, others who are less senior practitioners, in whom I can clearly see their embodiment as a clear expression of whole-hearted practice. These are the people who continue to inspire me, and that is how I aspire to practice.

And the following lines make clear what happens when you do this: it does not make you a superior person, because the virtue returns to the ocean of reality. Any good you do ripples out into the world, and we don’t know what effect it will have. I trust that it benefits myself and others, and try not to worry so much about how that manifests.

(This post first appeared on my Patreon page, as part of a series on the precepts)

Tetsugen Bernie Glassman

I was sad to read that Tetsugen Bernie Glassman had died. His role in the expansion of American zen, especially into the realms of social action, was of great importance, and will outlive him. I was reminded of that recently when I re-read Instructions to the Cookwith its mix of the practical and the traditional.
He visited Zen Center a few times while I was there, and I wrote about one such visit on the Ino’s BlogSince I know many of you don’t click the links, he spoke about ‘Lebowski Koans’, which became one of his themes of practice; I was especially taken with ‘new shit has come to light.’ Strangely enough, looking through the Zen Center dharma talk archives, the recording is not available – perhaps I messed it up as ino. And even though I refer to the Livestream recording, those archives don’t seem to go back far enough. So you will just have to take my word for it that is was a splendid event. At least I have one visual memory from the day:

Clown shoes in the hallway.jpgThe clown version of ‘shoes outside the door.’


‘Although a great bell is impressive, it makes no sound unless it is rung. Nor does a sage respond in isolation.’


angel Kyodo williams

‘Beings are numberless. With practice I promise to notice them and see that there is no separation between us. In this way, I contribute to saving them all.

Desires are ceaseless. With practice, I promise to become aware of them, notice them, and allow them to fall away. In this way, I let them pass and put an end to them.

The truths that make up reality have no limit. With practice, I promise to be an active and engaged thinker, open to the entire spectrum of possibilities, giving myself tools to work with. In this way, I will master them all.

The path that leads to enlightened being is unattainable. With practice, I promise to realise that I have already begun to move in a direction that will clarify the way in which I see things. I am already more likely to notice things that have gone unnoticed before. It has already made me more aware. The path is not under my feet, but a part of the enlightened being that I already am. In this way, I will attain it.’ (Being Black)

If you have taken a listen to just about any of my talks from this year, you might have spotted that I ended most of my discussions of the four Bodhisattva Vows with this version by Reverend angel. When I first read this passage, it struck me as a profoundly helpful exposition of what the vows are asking of us, and I hope that those I have shared it with feel the same way.

Roxane Gay

‘Every single day there is a new, terrifying, preventable tragedy fomented by a president and an administration that uses hate and entitlement as political expedience. If you remain disillusioned or apathetic in this climate, you are complicit. You think your disillusionment is more important than the very real dangers marginalized people in this country live with.

Don’t delude yourself about this. Don’t shroud your political stance in disaffected righteousness. Open your eyes and see the direct line from the people in power to their emboldened acolytes. It is cynical to believe that when we vote we are making a choice between the  lesser of two evils. We are dealing with a presidency fueled by hate, greed and indifference. We are dealing with a press corps that can sometimes make it seem as though there are two sides to bigotry. Republican politicians share racist memes that spread false propaganda and crow “fake news” when reality interferes with their ambitions. Progressive candidates are not the lesser of two evils here; they are not anywhere on the spectrum of evil we are currently witnessing.’ (New York Times column)

Roxane Gay is one writer I always pay attention to, so this pre-midterm column caught my eye last week when it was published. I was also taken by this piece by the always wonderful Rebecca Solnit, and another article from the Guardian that spells out exactly why the US fails to be a participatory democracy in so many ways.

In some ways it feels that everyone has been holding their breaths for months, waiting to see the outcome of today’s vote. I regret not being able to vote, as a non-citizen, and that I don’t have so much money to donate to the causes I support; I can only hope that a sense of the common good comes to prevail again.

Changing Time

I am writing this on the first evening after the clocks go back. In England we talk about the end of ‘Summer Time’; happily in San Francisco, summer’s lease has been extended even into the first days of November. We may not have had a repeat of last October’s late heatwave, but there has been a wonderful (and for me, deeply nourishing) succession of sunny warm days, with very little of the wind that blows off the Pacific for much of the year. Life feels good, even if my sleep has been erratic this past week (and if this post feels a little too simplistically positive, tomorrow’s will offer a counterweight).

In the past couple of weeks, commuting back from the East Bay around 6pm, the golden sun has been setting behind the tall buildings of downtown San Francisco, and radiant clouds have sat above the city. On Saturday morning, continuing to try to get my riding legs back after the long lay-off, I was heading through the Presidio when the sun started to reach the tree-tops, and as I crossed the bridge, the rising sun was beaming from behind the same buildings; the shadow of the roadway stretched almost horizontally across the water-facing slopes of the Headlands.

Re-reading the post I linked to above, that is almost exactly a year old, I couldn’t help but chuckle at my repeated propensities: this past Friday I had also run to Glen Canyon, and then improvised a way back that took me over the top of Diamond Heights – with a new-to-me view of downtown from Goldmine Hill, as the light started to become less intense, and on Sunday I rode to San Bruno Mountain, struggling somewhat on the slopes, but enjoying the views clear across the city and the bay from the summit, a grip of mist across the Golden Gate.

DSCF4209.jpgLate afternoon sun across Lobos Creek, at the end of the roam to Marshall Beach on Sunday.


‘The Way of the ancients was said to be “just so.” For by the time they talked about it, it had already changed. But when the Way changes, where does it go? Spit it out! It doesn’t run off just anywhere. Where does it actually go? Speak! Words won’t burn your mouth. Just: on a clear still night the moon shines alone. So: water doesn’t exist apart from waves. The waves are water.’ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)


‘When taking up or putting down bowls, and also when picking up your spoon or chopsticks, do not make any noise. Do not dig out rice from the middle of the bowl when you eat [to rush or make it appear that you need more]. Unless you are sick, do not seek after extra food or rice for yourself. Do not cover the soup with rice hoping to get more [by making it appear less]. Do not look into other monks’ bowls, arousing envy. Just eat with your attention focused on your bowls. Do not try to eat balls [or mouthfuls] of rice that are too big. Do not throw bowls of rice into your mouth. Do not take food and leave it uneaten to be thrown away. Do not make noise when chewing your food. Do not [loudly] slurp your food. Do not lick your food.’ (Eihei Shingi Fukushuhanpo)

Dogen’s Pure Standards can be an entertaining read, and this section on The Dharma for Taking Food is no exception. It also covers why Japanese monks don’t eat with their fingers in the way that was the norm in Buddha’s time, as well as how to sit down respectfully while wearing an okesa, the various forms for an oryoki meal, and ‘the suchness of ultimate identity from beginning to end.’  Some of what he writes about oryoki is still observable in the forms used at Zen Center, especially at Tassajara, where the monks currently in practice period will be eating all their meals in the zendo four days out of five. It is also a reminder, as are the section on behaviour when meeting senior monks in this volume, and the fascicles in the Shobogenzo on cleanliness, that he was doubtless having to deal with some fairly uncouth young men in the community, and trying to instil his notions that enlightenment is only manifested in our practices – those of eating as much as any other.

Tonen O’Connor

‘I’ve been reading Shohaku Okumura’s new book, The Mountains and Waters Sutra, a Practioner’s Guide to Dōgen’s Sansuikyo,and I came across the following :
There is actually no such thing as what we call “water”: it is merely a collection of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. When electrolyzed it becomes a vapor of hydrogen and oxygen. Just as a bubble is an event within the interaction between air and water, water is an event in which hydrogen and oxygen are connected. There is no fixed entity called water. 
Every once in awhile I have a reaction to a statement that is a sudden sense of realization, a sort of “Wow!,” a sense of profound awareness. I suppose I could say of “getting it.” That is what happened when I read the words above. Water is not a THING; water is an EVENT. Suddenly my whole understanding of interdependent origination took on clarity. What surrounds me are not “things.” They are “events.” I am an event. The universe is a vast event to which everything contributes.’ (from The Ancient Way Journal blog)

I enjoy reading the posts on that blog when they appear, and this one struck me particularly – so much so that I have used her entire piece in teachings a couple of times recently.