Marian Mountain

‘It is natural for my mother to doubt the value of this kind of life. From the ordinary point of view, our zen life leaves no trace of anything worthwhile. We have nothing to show for it, nothing to give from it, and nothing to say about it. Whatever we show, give, or say about it really isn’t it.
When I try to answer the genuine concern of my mother, I find my way lost between the true and the false. For many years the snow has covered the mountain of my zen life. Compared to the lush fruits of the comfortable life that I was living before I began zen practice, my present life seems utterly destitute. Today, with the snow covering Marble Peak, and a mountain of failures covering my zen life, I feel some harmony between my inner and outer environments. This winter, too, it’s the snow that makes the mountain.’(The Zen Environment)

As I was trying to articulate yesterday

Returning Empty-Handed

I had been thinking of this title for the post even before realising that the Dogen quote was scheduled for yesterday.

Sometimes, inevitably, I just feel flat about my life. The last few weeks have been painful in some aspects, and I notice how the way my body responds to those events bleeds over into my thinking about other areas of my life. My inner sense of balance has been challenged, and my response is to feel how little I have to hold onto.

Usually how this plays out in my thoughts is that three years after leaving Zen Center, I am still leading a fairly threadbare existence. I struggle to find value and meaning in many conventional aspects of life – especially in a city where the way things are valued feels so distorted – and place my faith in wisdom, compassion, joy in the reality of my surroundings, and zazen.

Sitting helps with these kinds of streams of thoughts. My Monday schedule, with the hour-long lunch-time sit, and usually either time at the jail, or with students, often shifts my mood and the internal sensations. This week we sat indoors again, with the gentle hubbub and the sound of the mandolin played by the man who resembles Marx from across the atrium. As before, the forecast had not been entirely accurate, but there was a little flurry of umbrellas at one point, and afterwards the rain set in heavily again. In the evening I sat with a few students, and noticed how my body – especially the area around my ribs – shifted between stickiness and fluidity, how my breathing aided that releasing, and how my posture mostly did not feel as light and easy as it sometimes does. I could also tell that I was getting sick, and, even after a much better night’s sleep than I have had in a while, I woke up feeling under the weather.

I have been thinking of Seizei, but I don’t feel quite so alone and poor. And I trust that, like the rains, this will blow over again soon.

IMG_0147.jpgIn the atrium where we sit on rainy Mondays.


‘This mountain monk [Dogen] has not passed through many monasteries. Somehow I just met my late teacher Tiantong [Rujing]. However I was not deceived by Tiantong. But Tiantong was deceived by this mountain monk. Recently, I returned to my homeland with empty hands. And so this mountain monk has no Buddha Dharma. Trusting fate, I just spend my time. Morning after morning, the sun rises in the east. Evening after evening, the moon sets in the west. The clouds disperse and mountain valleys are still. After the rain, the mountains in the four directions are close. Every four years is a leap year. A rooster crows towards sunrise.’ (Extensive Record , Discourse 48)

Keizan Jokin

‘Don’t you see? Making the eyebrows rise and the eye blink is alright and not alright. That realm is beyond doubt. Everyone is already endowed with it. When you try to understand that place, it has no features such as ears and eyes. You cannot discern it through seeing and hearing; nothing at all is done. However, although you are both together from the beginning, and finally it is something the name of which you do not know, it is something magnificent. Not only that, but that which gives you life and makes you die, makes you do such things as come and go, and makes you understand through seeing and hearing, is surely This. Do not seek the True Dharma apart from it. How can you expect to see it some other time? Even the twelve-part teachings point to this truth, and all sentient beings are inseparable from its functioning. How could you seek elsewhere for proof? Can you understand? Aren’t you raising your eyebrows and blinking right now? If you just thoroughly see that which understands through seeing and hearing, you will never doubt what the old masters said.’ (The Record of Transmitting the Light)


Avoid seeking somewhere else
Or you will be far from the self.
These days I am solitary and independent,
But I meet this everywhere.
This is now me,
But I am not this.
Understanding it like this,
You will directly meet suchness.

Taiyuan Fu

‘One day the monk Baofu Congzhan was cutting a melon when Taiyuan Fu came up to him.
Baofu said, “If you say the right thing I’ll give you a piece of melon to eat.”
Taiyuan said, “Give me one.”
Baofu gave him a piece of melon.
Taiyuan took it and went away.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

This one still makes me laugh.

Shodo Harada

‘True emptiness does not arise from a preconceived notion of nothing at all. It is what comes forth when the mind holds on to nothing, when in each moment and in each situation we can function freely.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)


‘Baizhang said: “I want someone to go and tell something to Xitang.”
Wufeng said: “I’ll go.”
Baizhang said: “How will you speak to him?”
Wufeng said: “I’ll wait until I see Xitang, then I’ll speak.”
Baizhang said: “What will you say?”
Wufeng said: When I come back, I’ll tell you.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)


The Nature Of Wind

Zachary leaned over at the end of Monday’s sitting on the Embarcadero and name-checked Master Baoche. The nature of wind has been permanent recently, and there is no place it has not reached.

Overall, the weather has felt pretty exhausting this past couple of weeks. There have been days of solid rain, and days where the sky changed so quickly it was almost impossible to keep track of what was happening: one moment you could see blue skies out of the window, the next there was another lashing deluge – even hail at one stage on Friday.

Luckily I did not have many places to be last week, and on Sunday, after overnight rain, it was clear enough to ride. With my road bike still out of action, I have been continuing my sorties to the south of the city on my fixed-gear, and tried a different combination of roads this time, from Bayshore to Skyline. While the landscape is not as pretty as much of Marin, some of the roads and trails are great for peaceful riding. I was confronted with the wind on the way back north (reminding me of the first time I rode up that part of the peninsula, riding back from a YUZ weekend at Jikoji), and pummelled by it all the way from San Bruno to Golden Gate Park.

Monday, at least, was sunny; the wind was from the north, and it felt cold during the sitting, as it had last week, but there was a sense of the storms having passed. Later, when I came out from my session at the jail, it was still a little light, for the first time since the clocks went back, and an all-but-full moon was glowing over the bail bond offices on Bryant and the lighter holiday traffic.

At this rate, with the forecast looking a little more settled, we should be able to roam on Sunday afternoon, the first of the year. On Tuesday, still working at home for one more week, and with warm sun beckoning, I took a break to run around the route I had thought of, which will work nicely. I took the J-Church down to Balboa Park, looped around Ocean View and Woodside, and since I was still feeling okay, cut back from Balboa Park to Glen Canyon and home via Diamond Heights and Market. That was a good workout, with great views, not just of the ocean.

DSCF5380 copy.jpgIt has certainly been rainbow weather recently. From a ferry ride north.

Shohaku Okumura

‘The Lotus Sutra says that all buddhas appear in this world for only one reason: to show us the true reality of all beings and allow us to live in accordance with that reality. This means we don’t know the true reality of all beings; we only know the forms (namarupa) seen by human eyes. We only see the human water. We use that human water as water, but for buddhas and ancestors it is something else. This is what Dogen has been discussing: “What is the reality of water?”
Dogen is saying we should see water as a true reality of all beings. This means to see water just as it is. Then we need to ask if there is such a thing as “water as it is” before being seen by beings. Even if there is “water as it is,” how can we see it? How can we make certain that what we see is the true reality of water, instead of another, new namarupa? When we reach this point, all we can do is open the hand of thought and just sit.’ (The Mountains and Waters Sutra)

Shohaku is taking us by the hand and leading us very gently into the subtlest and deepest parts of Dogen’s way of seeing. I very grateful for it.