The Wind Blows Through The Empty Valley

Last week was by and large mercifully fog free in San Francisco, warm and with clear blue skies, reminding me of the best summer days in England – though England was then roasting in the kind of temperatures you expect to get in inland California. The fog came back in for Friday morning; this time I did have enough time to stretch my legs on my bike before going off to Wilbur. It was a round 100 when I arrived.

I was struck that afternoon by the stillness and quiet, and also my response to it, which was to feel very sleepy. Talking with Charlotte, one of the regular bodyworkers, she said it was the heat, but it was more, I think, that I find the heat so deeply relaxing.

Not so easy to sleep in the hot cabins though, even if the temperatures dropped overnight to allow a cool start to the day. Much as I don’t enjoy it, I ran first thing both mornings, as the colours on the golden hills started to reflect the orange skies to the east. On a flatter section heading up to the Medicine Wheel on Saturday morning, I had a sense of gliding, which was a nice delusion to have – it certainly didn’t feel that way the next morning as I lumbered from the cooler valley to the warmer hill tops crossing over to the Terraced Springs, my legs getting gently lacerated by star thistles which are running riot in the valleys.

On Saturday it topped out at 108; on Sunday it nudged a little closer to 110 – as someone observed, the only people to complain about the heat were those who had to work in it. I stuck to the shade, reading Shantideva and snoozing almost, despite good nights’ sleep. The guests were a very mellow bunch, and mostly quiet after the meditations. And when everyone left on Sunday, the wind picked up, as if signalling a change to come in the weather.

After the evening sits, with the sun down behind the hills, but still 90 degrees, I enjoyed lying on the stones of the pool deck which had absorbed all the heat of the day.

On Monday morning I got up early enough to sit in the tub under the stars, as the new moon rose over the hills, visible between the trunks of the pine, before I set off back to the city in the balmy early morning, meeting the fog as it rolled down from American Canyon.



DSCF8877Late afternoon sun on Sunday in the blazing heat.


‘Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we; we in the future shall be buddhas and ancestors. Revering buddhas and ancestors, we are one buddha and one ancestor; awakening bodhi-mind, we are one bodhi-mind. Because they extend their compassion to us freely and without limit, we are able to attain buddhahood and let go of the attainment. Therefore, the Chan Master Lung-ya said: “Those who in past lives were not enlightened will now be enlightened. In this life, save the body which is the fruit of many lives. Before buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we. Enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old.”‘ (Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon)

Which I think is exactly what Torei was saying yesterday.

Torei Enji

‘People may be of the present or the past, but the Way has no past or present. A person can practice the Way, but on attainment of the Way, the person is forgotten. Therefore the Way is the person; there is no person besides. So it is said that if the Way is the same as old, so is the person. The only reason for not being equal to the ancients is that perception of the Way is not transcendent, and practical application is not clear.’ (The Undying Lamp of Zen)

Norman Fischer

‘To be a bodhisattva is to be a bodhisattva in training, with a very long way to go. Right now we have selfish and self-protective impulses; we are greedy, grabby, fearful, territorial. This is normal. We can’t pretend we are better than we are. Pretending is pernicious. All forms of self-dishonesty hinder the practice of ethical conduct. When we sit down in meditation, we face the full truth of who we are. So the practice of ethical conduct begins with the recognition that sometimes we need to restrain our impulses. Ongoing practice gives us the eye to see what’s beneficial to ourselves and others, and what isn’t. We want to accentuate the positive and eliminate or at least gently reduce the negative.’ (The World Could Be Otherwise)

Katagiri Roshi

‘The human mind doesn’t have its own particular form; it is a state of being that appears only when you do something. That temporary state of being is based on interdependence with all sentient beings, so it is constantly moving and changing. That’s why any psychological explanation is very complicated.
If you see that movement and change in terms of phenomenal existence, it is provisionally called consciousness, but human consciousness is nothing but the functioning of impermanence and interdependent co-origination. It is just transiency and interconnection, movement and change itself. You cannot pin it down as something fixed, so philosophically speaking, we say it is empty. This is the human mind according to Buddhist psychology.’ (The Light That Shines Through Infinity)

Here Be Dragonflies

Happily, the weekend panned out very much as hoped, with rather good weather on the whole; the second anniversary of the outdoor sitting on Monday was also a wonderfully sunny day. Zachary was away, as were our two mainstay regulars, so I brought the cushions and mats over on MUNI (rather than with the bike trailer) and it went very smoothly. I was joined by three of our more recent regulars, at least until 1pm, and then I was on my own for the second half – that is unless you count the joggers and dog-walkers and babies and skateboarders and cyclists – the usual menagerie of human interest – matched by the variety of animal life, of which the dragonflies were in greater profusion than usual.

IMG_0593.jpgThe mobile zendo before…

MIIZ8956.jpgReady to sit.



‘The teaching has no dualism, neither does the mind; the Way is pure, without any signs. You should be careful not to contemplate stillness and empty your minds. The mind is originally clean, with nothing to grasp or reject. Each of you work on your own, going along as best you can according to circumstances.’ (The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)

Dale S. Wright

‘From an authentic Buddhist point of view, it matters little whether something can be identified as “Buddhist” or not. What matters is whether what it says is transformative and whether the transformation it offers will enlighten and awaken out lives.’ (The Six Perfections)

This book has been very highly regarded around Zen Center, and several teachers have based whole practice periods on it, so I feel I am a little late to the game, just starting to read it now – it is helping inform my current class, and the things I plan to be speaking about when I go to England in September. This notion, from the introduction, reminds me of Dogen – and Suzuki Roshi – eschewing labels on the teaching.


‘A monk asked, “There are words and phrases everywhere and all of it is polluted. What is the higher truth?”
Cuiyan said, “There are words and phrases everywhere and all of it is polluted.”
The monk said, “What is a place where there are none?”
Cuiyan said, “The assembly is laughing at you.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

I read this as: there is ‘a place where there are none’, and there is a place where ‘all of it is polluted’, and trying to escape from the grit of everyday life to a place of ‘higher truth’ is a fool’s errand.