I haven’t really wrapped my head around the fact that the decade is turning over this time, or spent much time contemplating the passage of time. I do remember, as we celebrated the beginning of 1980, my mother asking me where I thought I would be at the end of the decade. I had no idea (does anyone ever know where they are likely to be in ten years, especially as life starts to bloom?)

I do know that I reminded her of that conversation when 1990 came round. Life was blooming: I was freshly living in London and had just joined the BBC. Where I was still for the turn of the Millennium: while many of my managers were staying overnight to ensure that broadcasts continued (it’s easy to forget how pervasive the Y2k fear was at the time), my shift that day finished in the early evening, and I remember the deep joy of riding my bike through the thousands of happy people thronging the streets of central London, which had all been closed to cars. I rode home to see in the Millennium with the person who got me to San Francisco – after offering a glass of champagne to my downstairs neighbour, who was in her eighties and newly widowed. I imagined she had not thought she would live long enough to see that day, any more than I had ever thought I would be moving to California.

Ten years ago I was the ino at City Center, and although I don’t have any clear memories of that year as opposed to the others when I was in the same seat, I would have been sitting in the zendo in the run up to midnight. That may have been the year when someone paused outside on the street, and we could hear him making an anguished phone call, at around 11:30, pleading with friends to come and celebrate with him – in vain, it seemed. The densho would have rung 108 times, and I worked really hard as ino to have the timing work so that the last of the hits coincided with our neighbours on Lily Alley giving their audible countdown to the fireworks going off all over the city on the stroke of midnight.

Since those years of late night sitting and subsequent bonfires, I have tended to go to bed early and get up early, to be able to ride out before others are out and about. This year end, I am cat-sitting out of the city, and hope to make it over to the Marshall Wall on New Year’s morning, which would be beyond my present range were I not an hour of riding closer to it.

I have not been a great one for resolutions over the years, but two years ago, I did resolve to monitor my self-talk. I intended to mention this in my lecture, but then skipped over it. I did bring it up in the question-and-answer session afterwards; I have found it one of my most helpful practices, and the person I suggested it to liked that I used the word ‘monitor’ rather than anything that pre-supposed an instant change. Sharon Salzberg writes about this in Real Love as well, just noticing the kinds of words and judgements you use for yourself, and seeing if you can start to change the tone over time. If you haven’t thought of a resolution for yourself, I offer this one to you; I think everyone could use it.

Happy twenties.

(I finished typing this, in an unfamilar room, and got up to find this picture on an archive hard drive. In the process I knocked over a lamp which I had brought closer, its cord stretching across my path. I chuckled at my lack of awareness rather than having any angry put-downs come to mind. This is the kind of thing I am talking about).

Fire ceremony Blanche.jpgThis photograph is not from 2010, but it is the one I think of when I think of our end of year fires at Zen Center – Blanche would supervise the cleaning of the Buddha Hall tatami mats during the great temple cleaning in the evening prior to sitting until midnight; she would also be up again, in her robes, for the early morning procession to all the altars around the building.

Reb Anderson

‘The paramitas invite us to train in innumerable ways in order to become thoroughly and completely ourselves. This may seem ironic because we usually think we are already ourselves when we begin this path of the heroic bodhisattvas. But we don’t understand what it means to be fully ourselves, and therefore, we do need training. When we are fully ourselves, we see that our lives are fragile, and that we can be tender with our fragile lives. When we are tender, our lives do not become less fragile. Rather, through our deep acceptance that life is fragile, the door to an appropriate response opens. This is the door to the activity of wisdom.’ (Entering The Mind Of Buddha)

After my recent talk at City Center, in which I made reference to Reb’s new book on the paramitas, Barbara gave me a copy of it, which was an unexpected pleasure. I haven’t got very far into it yet, and I do notice some internal disquiet at the use of ‘heroic’ to describe the bodhisattvas: I feel that most people are self-deprecating enough that the word distances them from what they believe is possible – ‘oh, I’m not a hero, I’m just an ordinary person.’ Trust in the practice means trusting you are capable of such actions and training, but I would choose a different word myself.

Koun Yamada

‘All the anxieties and suffering of humanity stem from the paradox that while we are by nature perfect, we appear in the phenomenal world as imperfection itself – limited, relative, mortal, and all too fallible – unaware of our true nature.’ (Zen: The Authentic Gate)

Something we can never hear too many times.

Nyogen Senzaki

‘This mind is Buddha and no other, but one who clings to words and postulates an idea of it is far away from the Path. If you meditate on emptiness, you can never empty your mind. If you aim to enter samadhi, you will never reach it.’ (Eloquent Silence)

I always find reading Senzaki is like a fresh breeze blowing through the room.

Still true!


‘Seventeen monks, traveling in search of enlightenment, came to visit the famous teacher Master Yangshan Huiji. Before climbing the mountain to see him, they stayed night in the temple guesthouse, and that evening they discussed the Sixth Patriarch’s koan: “What moves is not the wind nor the banner, but your mind.”
The nun Miaoxin was director of the guesthouse, a responsibility that had been given to her by Yangshan. She overheard the monks’ conversation, and said to her attendants, “What a shame that these seventeen blind donkeys have worn out so many pairs of straw sandals on their pilgrimages without even getting close to the Dharma.”
One of the nuns told the monks what Miaoxin had said. The monks were humbled. They were sincere in their search for enlightenment, and so they did not dismiss Miaoxin’s criticism as the impertinence of a woman. Instead they bowed respectfully and approached her.
Miaoxin said, “What moves is not the wind, nor the banner, nor your mind.”
All seventeen monks immediately awakened. They became Miaoxin’s disciples and returned home without climbing the mountain to meet Yangshan.’ (The Hidden Lamp)

From Grace Schireson’s commentary: ‘She was unimpressed by their rehash of someone else’s insight, just as we might be bored by the Monday morning quarterbacking from spectators with no skin in the game. Why were these monks rehashing a centuries-old game? The real game is alive; it is not a discussion from the sidelines. Miaoxin had her own moves. She didn’t need to rehash the Sixth Ancestor’s, and she had the courage to enter the field.’

Years ago at Tassajara, one of Grace’s students recounted a teaching she had just received from Grace – it also contained a football analogy, and was ferociously alive; it became a great learning for me also.

I smile each time I remember these stories…

Shundo Aoyama

‘Spring comes to all, equally. It does not come quickly because someone wants it to, or slowly to one who wishes for delay. Spring arrives for everyone in the same fashion. In the sunlight, violets are violets, cherry blossoms are cherry blossoms. Some of the flowering stems or branches are short and others are long. Each blooms with a flower unique to it.’ (Zen Seeds)

These formulations may seem trite, but it is worth taking a moment to look at them and absorb what they are saying. Writing this out I remembered this post, which uses similar images; and of course this more recent one.  It boils down to: what can we control, compared to what we think we can control, or what we wish to? When we can appreciate the difference, ease follows.

Another airing for this piece by my namesake.


‘Once someone asked: “Suppose a student, hearing it taught that he himself is the Buddhadharma and that one must not seek it outside, should acquire great faith in these words, abandon the practice, study under a teacher that had occupied him until then, and spend his life doing both good and bad in accordance with his own inclinations. What would you think of this?”
Dogen instructed: “This view fails to match the words with their meaning. To say, ‘Do not seek the Buddhadharma outside,’ and then to cast aside practice and study, implies that one is seeking by the very act of casting aside. This is not true to the fact that practice and study are both inherently the Buddhadharma. If, without seeking anything, you detach yourself from worldly affairs and evil actions, even though they may attract you; if, even though you may not feel like practice and study , you carry it out anyway; if you practice wholeheartedly with this attitude and still gain the good rewards – then the very fact that you have practiced seeking nothing for yourself accords with the principle of ‘not seeking the Buddhadharma on the outside.’
“When Nan-yueh made his remark about no trying to polish a piece of tile to make a mirror, he was warning his disciple Ma-tsu against striving to become a Buddha by practising zazen. He was not trying to proscribe zazen itself. Zazen is the practice of the Buddha. Zazen is the ultimate practice. This is indeed the True Self. The Buddhadharma is not to be sought outside of this.”‘ (Shobogenzo Zuimonki)

I thought I might follow the example of British television in this week of Christmas, by having a series of repeats. This is partly caused by not having the free time I would like to be able to peruse and select new pieces to offer, but also because I sometimes look back in the archive, and am usually captured afresh by the words I find there. Here is Dogen being quite clear about what practice means.