Kosho Uchiyama

‘We recognize things through abstractions in our mind or consciousness, but those conceptualized things are not the reality of life. IF we say the word fire, our tongues will not be burned. The force that is reflecting, imagining, abstracting, and conceptualizing things is the reality of life.’ (Commentary on the Bendowa)

Lingering Rain

I had two consecutive days of wearing my full ceremonial robes at the end of last week; one of them was wet, since it seems to have been raining every other day recently.

I had been asked to officiate a wedding on Friday. It was always going to be a small wedding, as others I have performed recently have been: the couple, the witness (also taking photographs), and me. The initial wish had been to have it by the water, and we had agreed that Marshall Beach would be a perfect location – since the tides were favourable. The weather had other plans, though, so with the heavy skies, we ended up at the Palace of Fine Arts – as it happens, the first place I ever officiated a wedding.
The proceedings began with some meditation, which is always a good way to start a ceremony, because the rest of it inevitably goes by in a flash. This we were able to do outside, but when I got up to speak, the rain started, so we ducked under the main rotunda, and ended up signing the licence in the car. I am still a little ashamed at my attempt to remove my okesa while sitting in the back seat, which left it far from neatly folded – it went into my bag and I had to sort it out when I got home.

The following day was bright enough that I could walk over to Michael’s shuso ceremony in my robes. It was interesting being back at Zen Center among many venerables just a few weeks after the Mountain Seat, but this was an altogether more intimate affair – not just in terms of numbers, but also content. Michael’s smoothly flowing answers to the students on the east side took a more personal and emotional turn following Bai’s question, and the former shusos focused on that aspect, with the congratulations reflecting on his courage in being so open on the seat, in a way that revealed the authenticity that is hoped for in this ceremony.

IMG_0275.jpgFriday’s bride and groom check photos from the ceremony.

IMG_0289.jpgPaul and Michael come out for photos in the courtyard after the ceremony.

Katagiri Roshi

‘You don’t know how vast the human world is. Even if you touch it, you don’t know. Human consciousness always tries to know, but fortunately or unfortunately there’s nothing to know. Unfortunately means, the more you try to know it conceptually, the more you cannot know it. Fortunately means, you can train your six consciousnesses to calm down, let go of the concepts in your head, and experience it.’ (The Light That Shines Through Infinity)

Gesshin Greenwood

‘A lot of people I meet in America seem turned off by the idea of Buddhist practice because it’s mostly hard. If it doesn’t make me happy, why should I do it! And I’ve heard more than one person say, “If it’s not fun, I don’t want to do it.”
This seems to be the pop consensus about Buddhism, at least in California, where I live. But “fun” has never been a part of my Zen practice. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say that “enjoyment” figures in at all. That will sound depressing to 98 percent of people reading this, but I think about 2 percent will understand what I mean.
Enjoyment comes and goes. Fun comes and goes. The only think I know how to do anymore is let go. Letting go is the only thing that feels truly and deeply good to me. Letting go is how I enjoy things.’ (Bow First, Ask Questions Later)

I sometimes say these days that one thing monastic training taught me is that getting to do what you want all the time is overrated. Because Tassajara is a quite magical place to live, I did derive an enormous amount of enjoyment from being there, though this did not extend to getting up very very early every morning, or spending hours staring at a wall every day. But I could feel the transformative value of those things, which is why I kept doing them. They are the kind of things that few people choose to put themselves through, and this is what I think Gesshin means by her two per cent comment – it can be easy to add a flavour of elitism to that, the idea that most people ‘don’t get it’ or ‘won’t work hard enough’, but it mostly is a lesson of letting go, of personal preference along with other ideas. And of course having the life circumstances that enables you to make those kind of choices. Without being one myself, I can imagine that any parent knows all to well about not getting to do what you want to do a lot of the time.

I am still adjusting to how to keep this training in my life without the discipline of residential practice; it may be that it is impossible for me to do. I am still working that part out, three years on.

Maura O’Halloran

‘Rescued this notebook from a fire. Tessai-san said I should keep a diary. I felt there wasn’t time to write feelings and analyze reactions. He said feelings were moso [something that can distract]. I said they were not and he agreed but said a busy person should just write events. Events will recall feelings. This seemed a fitting notebook to use.
The day I found it was in January. I got up at 3:00, shoveled snow, did zazen, woke the others, made breakfast, cleaned up, went out to beg. We had lunch at Okawa-san’s (tempura…she is kind, remembered that I love it). I came home, gave Ojichan [“uncle”] lunch, cleaned temple, lit fire for bath, made dinner, cleaned up, sorted momi [chaff] from rice, talked with Tessai-san (admire him profoundly), did zazen and went to bed. Takuhatsu was a busy time.’ (Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind)


Suzuki Roshi

‘It looks like a very impractical waste of time to sit here all day on your cushion; but if you understand yourself you will understand why we practice zazen. ‘ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

This was from a talk during a very early sesshin at Sokoji, when I imagine many of the participants did not really know what they were in for.

Gary Snyder

A few light flakes of snow
Fall in the feeble sun;
Birds sing in the cold,
A warbler by the wall. The plum
Buds tight and chill soon bloom.
The moon begins first
Fourth, a faint slice west
At nightfall. Jupiter half-way
High at the end of night-
Meditation. The dove cry
Twangs like a bow.
At dawn Mt. Hiei dusted white
On top; in the clear air
Folds of all the gullied green
Hills around the town are sharp,
Breath stings. Beneath the roofs
Of frosty houses
Lovers part, from tangle warm
Of gentle bodies under quilt
And crack the icy water to the face
And wake and feed the children
And grandchildren that they love.

(Kyoto: March)

Keizan Jokin

‘If you think that you have to become a Buddha or acquire the Way, and that in order to acquire the Way you have to abstain from food [except once a day], live a life of purity, meditate for long periods, never lie down, venerate the Buddha, and chant the scriptures and accumulate all the virtues – this is [like] making flowers rain down from a sky where there are no flowers, or making holes [in the ground] where there are none. Even though you spend eons and eons [doing these things], you will not find liberation. When there is nothing to want, this is called the Way. Thus even wanting to know what is enough is the root of desire.’ (The Record of Transmitting the Light)

Sylvia Boorstein

‘If my mind didn’t cling, I would be totally fearless. Nothing would frighten me, because there would be nothing I would be afraid to lose and nothing I would need to be happy. But my mind does still cling, so I am sometimes frightened that I won’t have what I think I need or that I’ll lose what I think I want. It’s not such a big problem anymore because fear doesn’t frighten me as much as it used to. I know it’s from clinging, and I know it will pass. I can tell myself, “I’m frightened now because even though I know what’s true, I have forgotten it right now. I know the possibility of remembering exists.” That possibility, that conviction, gives me a lot of hope in the middle of the biggest fright.’ (It’s Easier Than You Think)

One of the students I sometimes work with is leaving town, and he offered my Sylvia Boorstein’s book as he thought I could find useful passages in it for my teaching. There is a wonderful simplicity in what she writes, in a way that reminds me of Blanche, and perhaps that is the key: a lifetime of wisdom refined to the essence.