Shohaku Okumura

‘Dogen’s purpose here is to confuse us, to deconstruct our ready-made fixed views. He’s not trying to offer another fixed view; he’s trying to destroy our views, our clinging to our conditioned narrow views. That’s how we become released from our fixed perspective. Still we can say this is merely Dogen’s view He doesn’t say his view is absolutely true. His view is his view; that is the only view he could see. But it is not necessarily true. That is his point. Nagarjuna is like this too. Both negate fixed ideas while affirming that these ideas are the way we see. This process of simultaneous negation and assertion is how we are liberated from grasping our views as the right way and not listening to other perspectives.’ (The Mountains and Waters Sutra)

Typing this out, I was thinking of how I was trying to communicate this in my recent class. I was thinking of how Dogen expresses it in Yuibutsu Yobutsu; often I boil it down to his common exhortation: investigate this further! I was also thinking how it usually requires another person to force us to see in this way, that it is hard for us to give up our own views without the prompt, just as it is hard for many of us to give up our phones and connectivity unless we go somewhere, like Wilbur or Tassajara, where it is not possible to be connected. And then we notice how nice it is to give up the way we usually do things.

Kosho Uchiyama

Like the sunbeam
In a beautiful
I, both body and mind, would like to
Completely become one
With the transparent,


(Poem for Leaving Home)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Since I moved in this building, people ask me how do you feel [laughs]. But I haven’t find myself in this building. I don’t know what I am doing here [laughs, laughter]. Everything is so unusual to me. So actually I haven’t [laughs]– not much feeling. But I am thinking about now how to adjust myself to this building…

We should put things in most– in the most natural way. And next thing will be to clean, you know, our surrounding. This is very important effort to fit ourselves to our surrounding. At Eiheiji they say zazen– they do not say zazen first– they say “cleaning first and then zazen.” Clean our surrounding, making, you know, suitable surrounding for us. Then we should sit. So cleaning first and zazen next.

I think it makes sense. You know, I didn’t know the meaning so well, but, for an instance, it is rather difficult to sit before you clean your floor and altar. It is not so easy because you will have various dust, you know, in your mind too. So in Zen students, most important thing is to arrange things in proper way or in the most natural way, so that we can make best of our effort and best of– best use of them, and to clean it– to clean them so that we can have good practice. Then, I think, without changing, you know, our way of life so much, we will have quite Buddhistic feeling in our life, I think.

So fundamental point will be to make effort to suit ourselves to the surrounding– to adjust ourselves to the surrounding, instead of adjusting surrounding to our convenience. This kind of effort is, right now, very important, I think. And if we start to making effort on this point, we will have here wonderful, you know, life, and this building will be– without changing so much– I think we will have quite good Buddhistic feeling.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

These are Suzuki Roshi’s words having moved into City Center, a couple of years after Tassajara opened, and a couple of years before his death. Fifty years on, I think Zen Center has thoroughly adapted itself to the building.

Buddha Hall altar morning sun.jpg


‘Wherever there is a world of sentient beings, there, inevitably, is the world of buddhas and ancestors. The reason this is so, we should study very carefully.’ (Shobogenzo Sansuikyo)

In recent weeks I have mostly been working from home. Returning to my regular commute, and picking up Shohaku’s commentary again, I felt a physical sensation of ease, of connection and meeting, when I read this quote. That is why I keep practising.

Behind The Scenes

I know that when I wrote the Ino’s Blog, much of the value people derived from it was from having a description of what went on behind the scenes at Zen Center. It was fun to write about how we managed the schedule and the ceremonies, and I was never shy about taking photos on many occasions. As the years go by, I appreciate how sweet it is to have a record of the people who were there at the time; over Christmas I was scanning old photos, and in one case, at Jana’s ordination from around 2001, four of the six people in the picture are dead. So, over the weekend at Zen Center, I continued my tradition of getting unposed shots from around the event.

DSCF5408.jpgFrom the rehearsal on Friday – David arriving at the ‘temple gate’.

DSCF5557.jpgSteve Weintraub with daughter Sara and new grandson Rowan.

DSCF5756.jpgNorman, up from Tassajara, and Steve.

DSCF5742.jpgKristin, Zenju and Kaz Tanahashi,

DSCF5916.jpgAt the angesho tea: Florian, Liên, Kristin, Akiba Roshi, Hoitsu Roshi, Kogen, Paula, Tenku, Connie, Linda Ruth, Ed, Mushim, Helen, David, Les and Gaelyn.

DSCF5921.jpgLinda Ruth, Mushim, Les, Gaelyn, David, Mary, Charlie.

DSCF5935.jpgCharlie, Ed, Fu, Greg, Peter Coyote.

DSCF6014.jpgOkay, this one was posed, but three of my favourite people, Rev. angel, Caverly, Tenku.

Reb helped to make sure that Rev. angel’s okesa was perfectly knotted – she had asked me, but I don’t know how to tie one in that style.

Hoitsu Suzuki

I have been around Hoitsu Roshi perhaps half a dozen times in my years at Zen Center. From the first I was struck by his real engagement with whatever was happening, and how expressive his face is. While he embodies much of the traditional formal Japanese zen teacher, he also has something of the kid about him still, which is very endearing, and feels like something to aspire to.

Some time ago, Zen Center hosted a seventieth birthday part for him, and I remember him reflecting that he was now older than his father had been when he died, so he was in unknown territory. He has been very diligent in flying over from Japan to attend Mountain Seat ceremonies; this time I could not help but wonder if it was the last time he would be able to make the journey – although his mother lived to be ninety-nine. So I took every opportunity to get pictures of him, and was upset that a number of my shots, including some of him on the front steps, and greeting other Japanese zen dignitaries, were ruined by having selected a wrong setting on my camera.

DSCF5893.jpgRoshi, with his wife Chitose at the top of the steps, greeting Akiba Roshi.


DSCF5565.jpgDuring rehearsals on Friday afternoon. I told David that whisk lessons were standard.

DSCF5603.jpgRoshi enjoys a chance to drum. I have pictures from 2014 of him playing a variety of ceremonial instruments he had brought from Japan, and I have posted some of those on Patreon, along with some other pictures of him behind the scenes.

DSCF5938.jpgAt the angesho tea before the ceremony, looking most formal.

The Mountain Seat

This past weekend I spent many hours at Zen Center, mostly wearing my full ceremonial outfit, for two of the biggest ceremonies that a zen temple can put on – the Stepping Down and the Mountain Seat. Linda Ruth was retiring as Central Abbess, and David Z was stepping up as the new City Center Abbot (the other part of the equation is Ed Sattizahn moving across from the latter post to the Central Abbacy, but that ceremony is fairly nominal in comparison).

I wrote extensively about the Mountain Seat when I was ino in 2012 for Christina, so rather than go through all that again, I refer you to the posts I wrote at the time – I had a front row seat for all the events, including a very intimate part in the zendo; and in 2014, when the last Mountain Seat took place, for Ed and Fu, I was the director, and part of the ryoban, who are integral to the whole event. So this time it was nice to be there just to take photographs.

As with all major happenings at Zen Center, the wider sangha comes together, which can be quite overwhelming for the more introverted of us. Apart from many dignitaries and a few people who are well-known in the wider world, dharma friends going back twenty years, and from many different temples and lineages converged on Sunday. I was very happy to see a handful of people I know from the Gen X Teachers’ conference, and peers who have moved to other parts of the country, as well as current residents and friends who I see fairly regularly anyway.

David’s ascendancy to the Abbot’s seat marks a real generational shift at Zen Center; he is my age, and pretty much my contemporary: we moved into City Center around the same time, moved down to Tassajara at the same time, only he stuck around and I came and went. One of our fellow tangaryo students from 2002, Linda, Galijan, referenced this time in her congratulations, given as Zen Center president. There was a poignancy for me in all this – familiar in my recent visits to Zen Center ceremonies – in feeling partly included and intimate with all of it, and partly on the outside from having chosen to leave the organisation.

With all the living abbots and abbesses in attendance, as well as Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi (more on him later), there was a shift in tone as well, with many of David’s statements invoking diversity and privilege, and his wish for our practice to be inclusive for everybody. I certainly want to support him in that endeavour.

2019-03-03_CC_Mountain-Seat_Procession_ShundoDavid as shinmei (incoming abbot) faces the ryoban before the procession to the building.

2019-03-03_CC_Mountain-Seat_Procession-2_ShundoProcessing to the ‘gate’, following the ryoban, followed by various jishas.

2019-03-03_CC_Mountain-Seat_Kaisando_ShundoEntering the kaisando as part of the procession around the main altars of the temple.

2019-03-03_CC_Mountain-Seat_Mountain_ShundoAscending the mountain.

2019-03-03_CC_Mountain-Seat_Mondo_ShundoMondo (question and answer) from the mountain, facing Eli.

2019-03-03_CC_Mountain-Seat__DZ-Hoitsu_ShundoCongratulatory statement from Hoitsu Roshi.


Zenkei Blanche Hartman

‘When we are investigating Zen, we’re just investigating how to live this life. I don’t know of anything more urgent for me to investigate than how to live this life. Whether or not there’s rebirth or anything else, I get only one chance to live this life, and I’d love not to make a mess of it.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)


The mind-ground fully sown,
When moisture comes, all seeds sprout
The formless flower of samadhi,
How can it be bad or good?


‘I have reached sixty years in this human life, and I have been following the Buddha’s teaching from my twentieth year. What have I gained from studying Buddhism for forty years? For about twenty years, I thought I was greatly benefitted by Buddhism, but in the last twenty years I have been ungaining everything I have learned. The conclusion, I would say, is that I have gained nothing.’ (Zen Pivots)

So is this a good thing or a bad thing? What do you say?