Diane Eshin Rizzetto

‘We’re all so skilled at discerning how we’re different, but we don’t know enough yet about how we’re all the same.’ (Deep Hope)

I have been finding this book full of pithy and uplifting aphorisms such as this one, and I know I will return to it often.

Corey Ichigen Hess

‘One great thing absorbed from Zen training in the monastery is the ability to transparently become what is happening right now. Not the idea of what is happening. But to meet what is happening and merge with it. In this merging with what is happening, it is as if our body in space dissolves into what is happening.

At first, melding is just like putting our whole bodies into sweeping when sweeping, or when chopping vegetables, to only be chopping vegetables. Later, when doing just what we are doing completely becomes second nature, it becomes possible to enter into what we are doing in a more unified way, deeper and deeper. So when we are walking, we are going forward and nothing else. Or when listening to someone speak, we are truly meeting and hearing the meaning very deeply.’ (from Zen Embodiment)

Giving Thanks For The Rain

The weather was just about perfect for the roam on Sunday, with clear skies and warm sun. There was a sense, sitting on Bernal Heights looking down over the city, that this was the last of the fine weather that has characterised the last couple of months in San Francisco. Out of the sun the temperatures were dropping; this was true also as we sat on the Embarcadero on Monday: I felt bad for coming out without sunblock on, and enjoyed the warm glow on my back as we sat, but by the time I had arrived home later in the afternoon, I felt a little cold.

Rain arrived on Tuesday just as forecast; several showers during the afternoon, and much colder air. I only got rained on during the last leg of the journey home, glad to have made it to BART before a squall started. On Wednesday I was woken early by hail lashing against my window, though it stopped almost as suddenly as it had started. The rest of the day was mostly dry with dramatic clouds, but it was cold and damp enough outside that it reminded me of winter work days at Tassajara.

Speaking of which, I remembered writing about the moment of the rain arriving at Tassajara, and when I went to find the piece, it was exactly a year ago, Thanksgiving week, when the rain came in. I will quote this paragraph again:

“I was reminded of this time of year at Tassajara, sitting in the zendo, and hearing the first rain of the winter falling, first as a distant rustling noise further along the valley, then closer, and then noisily landing on the tin roof of the zendo. There was a tangible feeling of relief in the room – just for the first rain, mind; at other times, especially for those in unheated cabins with no way of getting clothes dry, it could be pretty wearing.”

I am hoping that Thanksgiving morning turns out decent again so I can get another ride in before enjoying a meal with friends and their new puppies.

IMG_1760.jpgLast week seemed to early to be putting up Christmas trees, especially with it still so warm.


IMG_1781.jpgThe Sunday afternoon views over San Francisco from Bernal Heights.


IMG_1808.jpgMore dramatic skies on Wednesday.


Issho Fujita

‘In sense perception psychology, it is taught that the scope of what we can perceive is quite limited. For example, people are able to perceive sounds anywhere between a vibration frequency of 20 per second on the low end to 20,000 vibrations per second on the high end. We are not able to perceive sound outside of this range which is to say such sounds do not exist for us. That does not mean, however, that those sounds do not exist at all. There are animals that can perceive such sounds and it is also possible to detect them by means of machines. In the same way, we have a horizon (a line that marks the limit beyond which perception does not reach) that limits our perceptions and so it is only natural that it isn’t possible to grasp completely the whole of infinite zazen. No matter how we try to perceive it, the zazen we glimpse is only one part or one side of it.

Within his writings, Dogen Zenji discussed various aspects of the limitations of perception. For example, in Fukanzazengi, there is the expression “a glimpse of wisdom.” “To glimpse” means that no matter how hard we try to perceive the whole of zazen, we will never be able to see more than one part of it. This is to say that with these words Dogen Zenji cautions us to be careful of feeling some kind of ecstasy as a result of getting into some position where we cannot move because we are caught by that experience. No matter how profound and refined the insight, or delicate and subtle the perception might be (that in itself is a valuable thing…), it is limited as it is a human perception and inevitably is partial or one-sided.’ (from the Soto Zen Journal)


Don’t you see how Master Te-shan used to haul out his staff the moment he saw monks enter his gate, and chase them out? When Master Mu-chou saw monks come through his gate, he would say, “The issue is at hand; I ought to give you a thrashing!”

How about the rest? The general run of thieving phonies eat up the spit of other people, memorizing a bunch of trash, a load of garbage, then running off at the mouth like asses wherever they go, boasting that they can pose questions on five or ten sayings. Even if you can pose questions from morning till night and give answers from night till morning, on until the end of time, will you ever even dream of seeing? Where is the empowerment for people?’ (Sayings of Yunmen)

Ah, the bracing contrariness of the old Chinese teachers. What is he really saying here, though? Don’t get distracted by the invective – I think the last question is the one to chew on.


The Way of the Ancestors
coming from the West
I transmit to the East.
Yearning for the ancient ways,
Catching the moon, cultivating the clouds,
Untouched by worldly dust fluttering about—
Thatched hut, snowy evening, deep mountain.

Of The World

My post yesterday prompted a correspondent to ask, ‘What is going on (actually)? Do you have some verbal answer?’ I suggested in reply that they go and look out of the window.

I received in return a description of things seen and things felt: ‘a very “mundane” verbal description of an experience – and yet, ok as it is.’

After this exchange, as I was out on my bike, I remembered that many years ago, when I was still a student, discussing with a good friend the value of traveling the world – not just to see amazing places, but also to promote personal growth – I quoted a line from a Talking Heads song, ‘I look out the window, and I call that education.’

I also thought, while riding, of the stamp that used to appear on books in the Zen Center library, courtesy of Celeste, the librarian who has since died, with the exhortation, ‘Have an Ordinary Day’; and of how Ed Brown, invoking Suzuki Roshi, talked of the ordinary being special and the special being ordinary.

The word ‘mundane’ has a connotation of boring, or perhaps even sense of drudgery attached to it. A sample online definition tell us:

Mundane, from the Latin word mundus, “world,” originally referred to things on earth. Such things were supposed to be uninteresting when compared to the delights of Heaven; hence the word’s present meaning.

And yet: this is what we have; this is where we are. Okay as it is. When we feel that we have to be looking for the supramundane and ignoring or belittling the mundane, we miss the opportunity to practise – or as Dogen would say we miss the moment of practice-realisation. When he says in the Genjo Koan, ‘here is the place; here the way unfolds’, it is easy to look past the fact that he really means right here, right now. Whatever that looks like.

On my ride yesterday, the world looked pretty beautiful. Once I was over the hill from Mill Valley, and descending towards Muir Woods, I was sharing the road with turkey, quail, and, unprecedented for me, two coyotes by the roadside in different places. I rode north along Highway 1 with the blue Pacific as a backdrop. It was wonderfully life-affirming, even the section that had recently burned, with its scorched ground, crisped brown leaves, and traces of pink fire retardant on the asphalt and barriers. And so was riding on 17th St later in the day, with three young people, two on scooters, one on a bike, all ringing their bells as they enjoyed their afternoon excursion. And so was chatting with the cashier at the supermarket, and being flustered by a careless driver soon afterwards.

Every moment counts.

Suzuki Roshi

‘Anyway we should listen to the birds singing; listen to the insects singing; if you are aware of your exhaling and inhaling (where the inhaling come from, where your exhaling goes) if you feel the heart beat one after another, then you will understand what is going on in this world actually.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

Dale S. Wright

‘When we act with kindness, we do something incremental to our character – we shape ourselves slightly further into a person who understands how to act with kindness, is inclined to do so, and does so with increasing ease. We etch that way of behaving just a little more firmly into our character, into who we are.’ (The Six Perfections)

I had to check to see whether I had already posted this (the word ‘incremental’ apparently has not yet appeared on this blog). This is because I was certainly quoting from it in my talks in England, and it feels like a credo of mine at the moment.

And, as a footnote, this marks 1500 posts on this blog, in a little over four years. Here’s to the next 1500. Thank you for your support!