‘True freedom is not about getting an object to satisfy the craving. True freedom is in exploring the craving itsef, and seeing and feeling what is on the other side of that craving. One of the powerful aspects of awareness arises from the fact that the awareness of an experience is not the experience itself. The experience of being aware of craving and all of its sensations, pleasant and unpleasant, is the experience of not being lost in the experience of craving.’ (Awakening Together)
‘To follow the Way is like holding a steering wheel. It is not because you imitate your friend that you drive well.’ (Commentary on the Song of Awakening)
On a recent visit to Zen Center, I saw this book and picked it up right away. I have long enjoyed the Song of Awakening, or Shodoka (a brief search in my post history only brings this up as a previous reference), and I still wish that there was more made of it at Zen Center. While I do have a number of books in my to-read stack, I will be keen to get to this one.
The Zen Center library has – or certainly used to have – many books in it that were unpublished manuscripts, and getting to read some of those felt like a real treat. Nyogen Senzaki’s commentary on the Mumonkan was one such, now published as Eloquent Silence, and this is another, Sawaki’s commentary coming to us thanks to Tonen O’Connor, via a French translation of the Japanese, which always struck me as a little random (though it makes perfect sense, seeing as Taisen Deshimaru was a disciple of Sawaki who moved to Paris).
Narratives can be fun to construct; occasionally I have told one version of my life story wherein my arrival in San Francisco can be traced back to a skiing trip I did not go on during my college years.
The through line on this narrative would go back to what we called the Tri-Temple meeting in 2011: this was Abbot Steve’s idea, to get the senior staff at all three Zen Center practice places together one day a year – the first week in January was the best time to manage that. During that particular meeting, all the City Center people got together for a little brainstorm during the afternoon, and someone – I always remember it as being Tanya – suggested that there should be a group for young adults. For whatever reason, I thought it was a great idea, and offered to be a part of the team that made it happen, which it did, starting about six months later, as Young Urban Zen. Mike B., as I recall, was one of the people who came to the first meeting, and who kept coming. Over the years, he has encouraged me to network myself better – one of the reasons I started this blog back in 2015 – and has made an effort to connect me with various people that he met who he thought might help me, or who I might be able to help.
At the beginning of 2017, at Mike’s prompting, I met Sarah, who was just beginning to get her company rolling, for a cup of coffee in Oakland. I appreciated her vision and the way she spoke about meditation and wellness, and was intrigued by the device she and Brian were developing. I helped with some of the early trials, and then lost touch with them, though I did occasionally check to see that they were still working on their vision.
A couple of months ago I received an email to ask if I would come and try out to be an instructor at their forthcoming studio, for live classes with the device, and I was excited to join up. Now they have twenty people working on the team, and have taken the big step of opening a space downtown for meditation classes.
I have been down there for some training classes and recordings – not to mention a couple of parties – and now the whole venture is going live. Today I will be there for several sessions – my first – and aim to be teaching every Wednesday, and perhaps other times as well. The roster of instructors is a great group of people, as is everyone who works there. If you are local, and want to try a slightly different style of meditation to what I usually offer, please come and check it out.
The studio has been put together in the past few weeks.
‘I have gone on at great length about life in a Zen monastery, a subject that may seem totally unrelated to your own lives. Yet all people, regardless of how their lives are structured, hold themselves dear. Everyone wants to be happy. And enlightenment is the starting point of happiness. We can use the words “true self-confidence” in place of “enlightenment.” True self-confidence means confidence in the true self, and confidence in the true self is a necessary requisite to happiness.
The power in which you can come to believe in yourself is not gained through training. It is the great power that transcends the self, that gives life to the self. The purpose of Zen practice is to awaken to the original power of which you have lost sight, not to gain some sort of new power. When you have sought and sought and finally exhausted all seeking, you become aware of that with which you have been, from the beginning – before ever beginning to search – abudantly blessed. After you have ceaselessly knocked and knocked, you realize, as I have said, that the door was standing wide open even before you ever started pounding away. That is what practice is all about.’ (Novice To Master)
I think Morinaga Roshi entirely summarises what practice is all about. It might seem hard to get a grasp on, and it might seem counter-intuitive that we need to practice to discover that we don’t need to find something new, but I believe this to be true. If you want to hear another way of discussing this, Bryan, as I suggested before, nailed it in his recent talk.
‘At a retreat on the Big Sur coast, I invited several visiting masters and lamas. Kobun Chino Roshi, a Zen Master, taught about being open to many possibilities, then he offered to demonstrate the famous art of Zen Archery.On the appointed afternoon, he set up his target at the west end of an elegant lawn, which dropped off into the Pacific Ocean. The retreatants and teachers gathered, and the Roshi made a beautiful shrine on a nearby rock, where he offered prayers. Then slowly and with exquisite care, like a ballet, he bowed and changed into an outer white silk robe. He raised and unsheathed his bow from its leather case and carefully strung it. Then he uncased the arrows, sat meditating with them in his lap, then spun them and looked down the length from feathers to tip, finally selecting one. He stood and mindfully paced fifty feet from the target. There he rested – alert, silent, present.
The spectators were hushed. After what seemed like a long time, he raised his bow and then notched the arrow. He turned toward the target, stood, very slowly drew the arrow fully back, aimed, and after a long time deliberately raised the bow higher and let the arrow fly. And it flew – over the target, over the cliff, into the ocean. Success. He smiled broadly. Then he took another fifteen minutes in elegant fashion to gracefully unstring the bow, pack the arrows, bow to the altar, and change into his black robe. At the end, he laughed and bowed to us all.’ (No Time Like The Present)
I would have been more impressed if he had clambered down the cliffs to retrieve the arrow…
(Tongue firmly in cheek in case you are wondering).
Many paths lead from
The foot of the mountain
But at the peak
We all gaze at the
Single bright moon
This isn’t a running blog (or a cycling one), even if I tend to get likes from some quarters every time I talk about my running practice. Reading this article about Strava the other day really got me thinking, though:
‘Richard Askwith, a British writer and fell runner, is the author of Running Free, a book about the over-commercialisation and datafication of running. He gave up running with a smartwatch years ago. “I think if I was constantly wanting to tell other people about my runs I would be losing out on the experience of the run itself. If you’re running off-road, then you’re inhabiting your environment and you’re sensing how your step feels and you’re thinking about where your next step is going to go. Then if you want to think about how much effort you’re putting in, you just sort put your foot on the pedal a bit, but it’s all subjectively measured.”’
Most of my running years were definitely analogue ones; I would keep track of my times on various courses, in terms of noting what time I left and what time I returned, and hoped to stay within certain parameters. In my college years, my criterion for being entirely happy with my fitness was being able to run ten miles in less than seventy minutes – with the routes generally not being completely flat – and not feel completely wiped out afterwards. In the last of the three marathons I ran, in London, I know what the official time at the end said, but I was also aware that it had taken me almost ten minutes to get over the starting line, since those were the days before personal transponders.
My very first ‘racing bike’, which I got when I was eleven, had a mechanical speedometer on it, and I spent several years tracking my speed as I rode to and from the nearest towns – in ways that probably did not enhance my safety. This was also true of the computer I had on my commuting bike in London, where I kept an eye on my average speed, and hoped for a series green lights over the five miles (I think my record time set on a homeward journey was at 6am after a night-shift at the BBC). On my road bike, I tended to clock segments – how quickly did it take me to climb Box Hill, or later, the climbs from Highway 1 to the Ridge on Mount Tam, or to the summit of Tam or Diablo?
So I am very aware of the lure of quantification, even though I eventually let it go: I was only ever competing against myself, and at the age when I figured I wouldn’t be getting any faster, I lost interest in that.
These days, both with running and cycling, I am happy to set myself a course and see how I do: can I get over Mount Davidson on a run? How do I feel as I tackle the Headlands? I like to challenge myself still, but I am very glad not to be in thrall to the competitiveness Strava offers. As the quote above suggests, there is being in the moment, and there is being focused on something else, and the former is everything my practice has taught me – both in running and in meditation (and the running and riding came first, of course!)
‘We must keep trying to place out understanding in the realm of a buddha’s activity as our everyday life. A buddha’s field is formal practice with a teacher, and it is going to work and shopping for groceries. We cannot understand practice unless we practice, and then we don’t need to worry about realization.’ (Being-Time)
‘Sometimes we think that what we have to offer is not enough – a box that is empty, or only partially filled. A deeper understanding of the Paramita of Giving and Receiving reminds us that intention is already a kind of fullness. The gift we truly have to offer is, in fact, ourselves. But do we really believe it’s enough?
It is a rare gift to simply meet with openness and clarity what life brings our way, to meet ourselves and others, to give and receive as we are at any given moment. We have the very mistaken belief that it’s simply not enough. So, we wrap ourselves in our images, which were themselves created by deep beliefs about “not enough” or “too much.”‘(Deep Hope)
‘In the simple format of meditation, just sitting there by yourself with no one to negotiate with and no task to perform, you have the perfect conditions for practicing patience. Take the issue of physical pain, an experience we naturally view as problematic. Here’s a way to go about it: When physical pain arises in meditation, stay with the breath and the sensations of physical pain. Don’t move, don’t adjust, even though you want o. Doing this will quickly show you hpw the mind runs away when it doesn’t like what’s going on. Gradually train your mind to stay close to the unpleasant sensations and the thoughts that inevitably go with them. When you do this, you will be surprised to discover within yourself a larger person, someone more forbearing, more dignified, and more courageous than you thought you were. It may seem masochistic to practice like this, but developing patiend with unpleasant physical sensations is perhaps the most valuable thing you can learn from meditation practice. To be able to endure physical discomfort and pain with grace and composure is a valuable skill you will come to appreciate as time goes on.’ (The World Could Be Otherwise)
The last sentence reminds me, as I may have said on here before, that I have heard it expressed that this practice is good preparation for dying. As morbid as that might sound, I think there is great value in that. And, typing this out, I remembered all the evenings in sesshin at Tassajara: the first period in the evening after dinner always seemed to end up being the most painful of the day; I would endure whatever my legs were telling me until the bell rang, then would leave the zendo during kinhin to pee, or clean my teeth – anything to get a little break. Often I would tell myself on the way out that I wouldn’t come back, but somehow I always did, and the last period was never as bad.