Charlotte Joko Beck

‘Joy isn’t something we have to find. Joy is who we are if we’re not preoccupied with something else. When we try to find joy, we are simply adding a thought—and an unhelpful one, at that—onto the basic fact of what we are. We don’t need to go looking for joy. But we do need to do something. The question is, what? Our lives don’t feel joyful, and we keep trying to find a remedy.
Our lives are basically about perception. By perception I mean whatever the senses bring in. We see, we hear, we touch, we smell, and so on. That’s what life really is. Most of the time, however, we substitute another activity for perception; we cover it over with something else, which I’ll call evaluation. By evaluation, I don’t mean an objective, dispassionate analysis—as, for example, when we look over a messy room and consider or evaluate how to clean it up. The evaluation I have in mind is ego centered: “Is this next episode in my life going to bring me something I like, or not? Is it going to hurt, or isn’t it? Is it pleasant or unpleasant? Does it make me important or unimportant? Does it give me something material?” It’s our nature to evaluate in this way. To the extent that we give ourselves over to evaluation of this kind, joy will be missing from our lives.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Following on from Norman’s words.

A Few Reflections

I realised, after I had posted the other day, that I had left out one element of the two different rides I had been on: riding up the mountain was all about effort, and riding along the water was all about no effort. Among my dharma talk drafts, I have one that centres on that subject, but who know if I will ever put it together.

My last Embarcadero sitting, this past Monday, was very sweet. For a few weeks we have been filling the cushions; I estimate that we have seven regulars, most of whom come most weeks now, and this time we had a couple of drop-ins, including one young man wearing a full set of grey Chan robes. Unfortunately, as with some other people who come after we have begun and leave before we end, we didn’t get to chat with him, but just bowed when he came and went. Once again, we shared the shade of the tree with others who were seeking some shelter and respite, one of them familiar to us, as are so many of the passers-by now.

We are more back to typical San Francisco summer weather this week, after so many wonderful clear days. As my departure for England gets closer, I notice a poignancy that this is the end of summer for me; when I return in October, things will feel different. Being California, it may well be hotter, as it was a couple of years ago, but I know that after the equinox, the days get shorter quite rapidly.

Still, before then I have a weekend at Wilbur, for which I anticipate the kind of heat I relish. I heard from someone I know that they will be up there as well, and I am looking forward to checking in with them, as well as sitting, running, relaxing, and, since I have some projects unfinished, working. Part of the unfinished work has been procrastination, part of it that I have just not wanted to keep filling my free time, and that some self-care was a good idea.

It’s not that I feel especially stressed now. The upturn in my income over the past few months, and a general feeling of contentedness about the dimensions of my life, have left me feeling as relaxed as I have been in perhaps four years – back to the time I spent three months at Tassajara just working, and enjoying the community, the landscape and the heat.

And at a time when a contemporary of mine has taken the reins of power in the UK and seems set on running it into the ground – or over the cliff, depending on how dramatic you like your imagery – driven by a grotesque sense of entitlement and ambition, I feel glad that I can enjoy a life of different values – though I am somewhat dreading the mood I will encounter in my native country.

DSCF9358.jpgThis was taken a few days ago, from the back of where I live, but the light when I was writing this on Thursday evening was equally vivid.


Enkyo O’Hara

‘When we first come to Zen practice, many of us think that is is only about us individually. We think it’s about “me” getting better at “something.” We might want to be a better student or parent or runner – or just a better person. Personally I wanted to be free of my fear: fear of others, of being seen in a negative light, of not being good enough, of not being accepted. I thought meditation practice would give me courage, and it did, but not in the way I anticipated. I had put the emphasis on myself, not recognizing that this self is… made up of everyone I encounter and especially of those people in my daily life… Through the quiet awareness of meditation, I began to realize the freedom of experiencing myself as relationship rather than as an entity, a separate being. The courage meditation gave me is the courage of my wholeness.’ (Most Intimate)

I have used this quote before, here, and in classes. I expect I shall be using it in England.

Norman Fischer

‘This is the great secret of joyful effort and perhaps its most important aspect: Joyful effort isn’t something you do. Joyful effort is life, it’s sharing life. It come to you from elsewhere, flows through you when you are ready to allow it. Once you stop getting in its way, stop straining, stop thinking your life is yours and up to you, energy somehow appears – just enough energy, given the condition of your body and circumstances. If you have to do something, you will do it. If you have to rest, you will rest.’ (The World Could Be Otherwise)

The other great secret is that teachers who have practised understand this, and scholars, however talented, cannot trust that it is true.


‘Fellow monks, this is a good time; just make effort. Time does not wait for people. Extinguish the flames from your head. Entrusting what is in front of your face, how could this depend on expression in words? One who actively responds to what meets their eyes is called a superior person who studies the mystery. If you can be like this, the style of your tradition will not fall. At this very time, how is it?’ (Extensive Record, 496)

The Mountains and Waters Sutra

As I like to point out, Dogen’s title is not claiming to be a sutra about mountains and waters, but telling us that the mountains and waters are themselves the sutra – if we pay attention to them rather than thinking we know what they are.

I was originally going to title this post ‘things falling into place’; that phrase came to me last Monday after I had run the uphill blocks and many staircases up to Twin Peaks, and was looking down on the city in a late afternoon mix of sun and shadow. There was a moment where the city felt so deeply familiar that I was settled by it, even as I am busy having plans falling into place for my upcoming trip to other places where I feel at home – and a few, like Hebden Bridge and Belfast, that are becoming more familiar to me each time I visit.

I almost didn’t run that day, but was glad once I was out there, and I knew it would be good preparation for a long run at Wilbur and then those to come in England. This past weekend I took my last significant bike rides until the middle of October, when my form will be very different, and they exemplified summer in the Bay Area: on Friday I left early to catch the BART to Walnut Creek, where it was already warm before eight o’clock; the ride up Mount Diablo was not blessed with much breeze, though at least there was shade. I sweated my way up the road I feel I know well, cracked by the continual stretching and shifting of the mountain, even if I only get there once a year at the moment, something I would like to change. Perhaps the winter will be less wet this year…

The ride is very simple, and that is the fun of it for me: put it in the lowest gear and pedal for an hour until you get to the summit; on the way down, pay attention to every corner.

I led hikes that afternoon, and the following one – my last scheduled roams, as I am not sure the weather will be amenable in the middle of October, much as I hope it will be. And I felt pretty weary from all of that (weary enough not to have written this post for the slot I had originally intended), but not enough to stop me pedalling south on Sunday morning. It was a mostly foggy ride, and having gone out along the Camino Real and adjacent quieter streets, still having to deal with fast-moving and impatient traffic at that early hour, it was a relief to get to the quiet, car-free miles alongside the Crystal Springs Reservoir and San Andreas Lake. Mist drifted prettily off the surface of the water and the farther banks started to appear through the fog. People walked, ran and cycled, all sharing the space peaceably.

I have also been at Zen Center a couple of times, offering zazen instruction this past Saturday, and leading a beginners’ sitting the weekend before. I was very happy that the fifteen participants all stuck it out for the whole day, even if some were struggling with physical discomfort, and sitting longer than they ever had before. I hope they got to watch and appreciate the arc of the mind and the ebb and flow of sitting for those periods, sometimes wakeful, sometimes sleepy – I was certainly tired in the couple of periods after lunch, but rallied before the end. I chose some lines from the Fukanzazengi to speak on, but mostly answered questions. Hopefully people felt met, and encouraged to practice more.

IMG_0795.jpgA view from the summit of Diablo on Friday.

IMG_0316 (1).jpgFrom a previous visit to Crystal Springs, with a different weather pattern.


Billions of offerings to buddhas create boundless benefaction.
How can it compare to reading an ancient teaching?
Yet, letters are merely inked on white paper.
Please open your eyes and see through immediately.

Through zazen.jpgA picture I have used before.

Koun Franz

‘The only zazen is the zazen that’s real, and the only zazen that’s real is the zazen that’s happening right now. The one that happened last week where it felt really good—it’s not real. And the one that you envision ten years from now, after you’ve been doing this every day and it’s really become a part of yourself—also not real.
The zazen of the person next to you that seems really, really solid, that person who sits like a rock—that’s not real. There’s one zazen that’s real, and you’re in it.’ (from Nyoho Zen)

I’m starting to see a thread here

Gesshin Greenwood

‘I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about not knowing what to do in zazen and thinking I am not doing it “right.” I think everyone must go through this. My relationship wth zazen has of course changed over the years, and I don’t worry any more about doing it “wrong” or “right,” as long as I’m doing it. So when I am talking to people with questions about zazen, I am very aware that nothing I can say or do is going to help them. I’ve had the same questions as they, and nothing anyone told me helped at all. The only thing that helped was sitting more zazen.’ (Bow First, Ask Questions Later)

I know this echoes other posts on the subject

The Lotus Sutra

‘The Buddha addressed Sariputra: “Such a wonderful Law as this is only preached by the buddha-tathagatas on rare occasions, just as the udumbara flower is seen but once in long periods. Sariputra, believe me, all of you; in the Buddha’s teaching no word is false. Sariputra, the meaning of the laws which the buddhas expound as opportunity serves is difficult to understand. Wherefore? Because I expound the laws by numberless tactful ways and with various reasonings and parabolic expressions. These laws cannot be understood by powers of thought or discrimination; only the buddhas can discern them. Wherefore? Because the buddhas, the world-honored ones, only on account of the one very great cause appear in the world. Sariputra, why do I say that the buddhas, the world-honored ones, only on account of the one very great cause appear in the world? Because the buddhas, the world-honored ones, desire to cause all living beings to open their eyes to the Buddha-knowledge so that they may gain the pure mind, therefore they appear in the world; because they desire to show all living beings the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world; because the desire to cause all living beings to apprehend the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world; because they desire to cause all living beings to enter the way of the Buddha-knowledge, they appear in the world. Sariputra, this is why it is only on account of the one very great cause that buddhas appear in the world.’

I had cause to read this paragraph at my recent class on the Bodhisattva Vows, as I tried to articulate what the ‘Buddha Way’ of the fourth vow means to me. There is something deeply settling about reading it again.