Shinshu Roberts

‘When I first began to practice, I really wanted to be the doan, a person who hits the bells, keeps time during meditation, and does other functions associated with the ritual in a temple. But what came with that job, for me, was anxiety about making mistakes. And of course there were many opportunities to make mistakes. This was difficult, because I wanted to be perfect. I was smart enough to know that how I hit the bells said something about who I was, but I was not mature enough in practice to let of of the ego involvement of needing to be perfect. This is a stage of practice. Our involvement with looking good gets in the way of our ability just to meet the moment without adding anything extra. That something extra, in this case, was my desire to look good, to be perfect. Of course, this “mistake” was actually what I was learning about. It was my practice.’ (Being-Time)

I had a little chuckle reading this passage, as I imagine many current and former temple residents may. My first wish at City Center was actually to be the fukudo (literally, the ‘number two to the doan’, if my Japanese-by-temple-osmosis is to be trusted), since this was the person who got to hit the big drum before breakfast – as well as the wake-up bell and the mokugyo, which keeps time for some of the chants during the service. I liked the idea of making a big noise in the temple: if you hit the drum, which lives in the basement, hard enough, apparently the windows in the kitchen, where everyone was congregated at the time, would rattle.
Being perfect was also a big deal for me, but mostly I didn’t have that much anxiety about it, as I managed to learn the forms quickly, and was conceited enough to think I was doing them pretty damn well most of the time. Until I came to be the koyko, where the instrument was my own voice. That was a whole other story (and one I don’t seem to have recounted here yet – but did on the Ino’s Blog); like Shinshu, though, I later came to appreciate how that experience was deeply helpful to my practice.

Katagiri Roshi

‘Why do you get up in the morning? “I want to do zazen.” Saying “I want to do zazen” is not an idea; it is vivid activity. You accept the feeling of sleepiness, you accept your emotions that are creating lots of complaints, and then you just get up. That’s enough. This is Zen practice. It’s a very simple practice.’ (The Light That Shines Through Infinity)

Shohaku Okumura

‘The Heart Sutra says, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form.” Logically, form is not empty and emptiness has no form, so emptiness and form negate each other. Yet the Heart Sutra says they are one and the same. Usually our rational mind does not accept this kind of twist. We say it’s contradictory and doesn’t make any sense. Allowing such a question is the beginning of Buddhist study.’ (The Mountains and Waters Sutra)

Reading this book ahead of my class on getting to grips with Dogen, this last line was the one that turned a key inside me when I read it.


‘A monk asked, “The bright jewel is in my hand. Is there anything that is illuminated or not?”
The master said, “Illumination is not lacking, but what are you calling a ‘jewel’?”‘ (The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu)

The Practice of Zazen

‘Japanese monastic practice purposefully challenges the distinction between ceremony and meaning, between bodily form and understanding, in order to arrive at something close to the unity of practice and realization. This is why receiving the precepts in a ceremony, no matter what your mind is doing, is seen as more important than believing or or thinking about the precepts. In this way, I think the Japanese style of Zen practice is closer to Dogen’s articulation of the unity of practice enlightenment.  The Japanese style is closer to Dogen’s intention, but it’s also more challenging, and there is greater room for failure, for producing mean and ill-spirited practitioners. There is little space for confusion or doubt. Form is privileged over emotional or psychological processing. There is an understanding that embodying correct form is the same as having correct view.’ (Gesshin Greenwood – Bow First, Ask Questions Later)

‘The point is to enact the meaning of the teachings in actualized practice, and the whole praxis, including meditation, may thus be viewed as ritual, ceremonial expression of the teaching, rather than as a means to discover and attain some understanding of it. Therefore, the strong emphasis in much of this approach to Zen training is the mindful and dedicated expression of meditative awareness in everyday activity.’ (Taigen Dan Leighton – Zen Questions, quoted in Being-Time)

I had been chewing on Gesshin’s quote since I read the book, and wondering about giving it some context for those who might find themselves a little sceptical at the idea, since it does open up the possibility of going astray. Reading Taigen’s view, in a footnote of Shinshu’s book, offered a nice angle on it. Or, as Dogen puts it, so much better than I could, ‘To expound the dharma with this body is foremost.’

Wendell Berry

‘Be joyful, though you’ve considered all the facts.’ (quoted in Less)

Since Christmas is a part of my cultural upbringing, I was wondering about a suitable quote for the day. This one has been in my drafts folder, quietly awaiting its time. Perhaps there will be tidings of comfort and joy one of these days.

Tatsugami Roshi

‘There is no better way to understand non-thinking or thinking the unthinkable than through the actual practice of zazen. When I explain the meaning of non-thinking, it is like scratching your foot without taking off your shoe.  It’s all nonsense.  Similarly, if I were to explain how wonderful taking a bath is to a person who had never experienced it, he would not understand how wonderful it was. Nevertheless, I must try to explain.
In considering what it means to think the unthinkable, there are three points which we must take into account.  Throw away everything and sever yourself from the falsehood of delusions.  Don’t think in terms of good and bad.  Don’t try to make an effort to become Buddha.’

Han Shan

In one flash of thought
My turbulent mind came to a rest.
The inner and the outer,
The senses and their objects,
Are thoroughly lucid.
In a complete turnabout
I smashed the Great Emptiness.
The ten thousand manifestations
Arise and disappear
Without any reason.

Kobun Chino

‘One period of sitting is not your own sitting. You may feel it is your sitting, but the inner view, which is utterly the external view as well, is that your personal existence is not sitting, but is included in sitting. The inner view includes everything which your mind is continuously working on. Memories arise. Memories of your experience are always there, no matter whether you deny them or accept them. They are there. Moreover, time passes, contents change, and so posture allows you to keep going. As you notice, this physical existence is very dynamic, a living thing which you cannot stop because it goes on by itself. Maybe the contents are living things, who go by themselves, and you are that which is experiencing and feeling them.’ (Embracing Mind)

I opened Kobun’s book at this particular page as I had made a note that the middle paragraph would be good for a post, but when I re-read the top of the page, I appreciated the subtle point he was making. As the years go by, I feel more and more convinced by the physicality of sitting, and how engaging with our posture can shift the inner experience, the memories and contents of our bodily lives.