Soko Morinaga

‘Where there are one thousand human beings, within one thousand ways of living, one thousand buddhas are revealed. Buddha is revealed through mountains, valleys, trees, and grasses, through the multitiude of phenomena. The heart that can be revered in whatever form we see, in whatever direction we look, this is the true heart of Buddhism. This is Buddha life.’ (Novice To Master)

Kaira Jewel Lingo

‘Making happiness central to spiritual life is only self-serving if we see ourselves as separate from others. But in fact, we are inextricably interconnected with those in our lives. When we practice to bring genuine happiness to ourselves, we naturally become someone others want to be around—we are fresh, relaxed, and available because of our inner contentment. In this way we become capable of bringing happiness to others.

The Buddha taught in the Mallikaa Sutta that it is correct to regard yourself as the most precious person in your life. I love how Toni Morrison says it in Beloved: “You your own best thing.” This doesn’t mean we are more important than others. Rather, seeking happiness for ourselves is creating happiness for others. And the reverse is also true—when we strengthen others’ happiness, this also benefits us. Is this self-serving? Only in the best sense of that word. Taking good care of ourselves, loving and bringing happiness to ourselves, is the foundation for being able to love, care for, and bring happiness to others.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

I met Kaira Jewel a few years ago at one of the Gen X conferences, just as she was adjusting to life in the outside world after fifteen years as a nun, and it is nice to see her bright spirit on the pages of Lion’s Roar.

Shohaku Okumura

‘Just as we immediately become a thief when we steal something, when we sit following Buddha’s example our zazen itself is Buddha.’ (Foreword to the Commentary on the Song of Awakening)

Shohaku is channeling his dharma grandfather Kodo Sawaki here, as well as Dogen, as he makes a distinction between the Yogacara understanding and the Zen school.

 

 

 

Larry Yang

May I be loving, open, and aware in this moment;
If I cannot be loving, open, and aware in this moment, may I be kind;
If I cannot be kind, may I be nonjudgmental;
If I cannot be nonjudgmental, may I not cause harm;
If I cannot not cause harm, may I cause the least harm possible.

(from Lion’s Roar)

Kate Murphy

‘But what is love if not a willingness to listen to and be a part of another person’s evolving story? A lack of listening is a primary contributor to feelings of loneliness…

Of course, technology doesn’t help. Devices are a constant distraction, and people tend to be woefully inaccurate at interpreting feeling states through text and emoji.’ (from a New York Times article)

This is not the same New York Times article that I quoted from before; this one is a call to pay attention to those closest to you. It reminds me of a couple at Tassajara, who came to do practice period having just separated after many years together, and expressing how they had been able to learn new things about each other through practising together in this way. I have always found that inspiring. And I find this chiming with the words and premises of Jenny Odell, that I shall continue to highlight as I read through her book.

Dale S. Wright

‘Whenever each of us says the word “I,” we know exactly what we mean. But as soon as we attempt seriously to consider what it is that this word names, we are at a loss.’ (The Six Perfections)

Dogen

‘All day and all night, things come to mind and the mind attends to them; at one with them all, diligently carry on the Way.’ (Tenzokyokun)

I have always been charmed by this phrase, from early in Dogen’s Instructions to the Cook, and it comes to mind often. I have a fond memory from Tassajara, when one of the garden crew cited it to me with a smile, as she fixed an irrigation pipe in the courtyard one morning, outside of regular work hours; she had realised it needed attending to, and she was doing it.

There is a deceptive simplicity to the phrase. Within the context of the fascicle, it illustrates the virtue of taking care of everything in its own time, and is surrounded by explanations of when and how to do today’s work, and work for tomorrow.

I remember a former tenzo at City Center jokingly inquiring when the tenzo is ever supposed to sleep, since Dogen stipulates ‘before midnight’  and ‘after midnight,’ but I see that he is just making a distinction between the things that have to be done first, and the things that can be done when those are done.

In my years in Zen Center kitchens, I got very familiar with the Tenzokyokun, as we chanted sections of it each morning as part of the kitchen service.  As tenzo myself, a dozen years ago now, I tried to find a way to comment on each passage as it came round, time and again; I have used this deep familiarity to offer classes several times on its themes.

These days I see another angle to the phrase, albeit one that is heavily supported by the central premise of the Tenzokyokun – that work is practice just as much as sitting or studying sutras are. We practise not to achieve calm but alignment with circumstances, whatever they are. We are not dismissing thoughts, but letting them arise and fall and dealing with what they present. Our mind is never empty, but we allow our ‘mirror wisdom’ (a phrase that has been percolating for me recently) to reflect what is there, and then move on. This is carrying on the Way.

Alternative Scenarios

The past two Sundays in the Bay Area have been marked by strong winds.

On the first of these Sundays, having seen the forecast, I knew I would not be comfortable riding over the bridge. So I headed south, and positively flew down Great Highway, which had been closed again for a race, with the tail wind. Of course, on the way back up from the Peninsula, as I remember from the very first time I road up Camino Real, heading into the teeth of a wind funneling down between the hills is no fun. I did my best this time around by heading for the bay shore, more in the lee of San Bruno Mountain, and it was not so grim.

Our Embarcadero sit the next day was challenging for everybody, with the north wind cutting through many layers of clothes, unmitigated by the sunshine. I was glad to ride home vigourously and get somewhere sheltered.

Last weekend I was up at Wilbur. The wind overnight on Saturday had kept the temperatures above freezing, but again there was little warmth in the sun. Sitting on the yoga deck, the plastic sheeting rippled and a part of the frame was banging. Back in the city, the wind had brought warm air, so I did the Monday sit in a t-shirt and felt pretty toasty. Afterwards, I did a meditation in a meeting room which always has noisy air-conditioning. In my closing observations I returned to words I had used at Wilbur on Sunday: the mind is always apt to create alternative scenarios. Wouldn’t it be better if it were ten degrees warmer or not as windy? Or, in the latter case, wouldn’t it be nicer to sit outside in the warm sun? And along with that, how we impose our ideas on the circumstances of the moment: the wind is too disturbing; the air-conditioner is too noisy. Instead of pushing things away, or shutting them out, can we just let conditions be as they are?

One of the participants in the latter session asked how we can do that. Staying engaged and curious, a continuous opening rather than closing, was the response I came up with. I might need to bring these stories to another session I am doing this week, as part of a team-building off-site, where I have been told that harmonising the group is the priority.

I had had a preliminary engagement with this topic on Saturday morning, when it had been clear and frosty at Wilbur (I would say I left the city under clear skies, but unlike at Wilbur, there was the typical low-hanging brown haze visible around the bay as I drove up). I was setting up the cushions, and the cold of the floor of the deck reminded me of all the hours on the engawa – the walkway around the zendo – at Tassajara, whether I was playing one of the instruments, or waiting as part of an oryoki serving crew on biting winter mornings. That was really a practice of making the unwanted wanted (I forgot that I had brought this up in connection with Wilbur): this was the reality of being at Tassajara (just as the cold deck was the reality of being at Wilbur on Saturday), so how are you going to meet it?

DSCF2193.jpgReally clear skies on the way into Wilbur on Friday afternoon.

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DSCF2251.jpgI enjoyed spending time with Frank on Friday afternoon, and, as a cat should, he was enjoying the late sunshine.

DSCF2287.jpgThe full moon setting on Sunday morning.

DSCF2267.jpgThe bathhouse was steaming away in the freezing temperatures on Saturday morning.

Jenny Odell

‘The convenience of limitless connectivity has neatly paved over the nuance of in-person conversation, cutting away so much information and context in the process…

A simple refusal motivates my argument: refusal to believe that the present time and place, and the people who are here with us, are somehow not enough.’ (How To Do Nothing)

Back in the days when you could roam around on Medium without needing to sign in (I have a resistance to my reading being tracked to the point of being recommended particular things rather than being able to browse freely) I came across the article that became this book. Unusually I hadn’t clocked the ‘read time’ at the top, and became more and more intrigued as the piece unfolded at luxurious length.

I can’t remember why I decided to go out and buy the book last week, but I did. The person working at my local bookstore helped me locate it (in ‘self-help’, which is I suppose as good a place as any); we discussed it, and then he said he hope I would get a lot out of it. I retorted that I hoped I got nothing out of it…

I have spoken about what the author talks of as the ‘nuance’ of in-person communication in my recent talks – our human hard-wiredness for connection, for mirroring emotions, for limbic resonance. For all that I enjoy texting with friends around the world, it is not the same as sharing a cup of tea with them. And the very root of our practice is to abide in the present moment as enough, and with ourselves, and others, as enough.

So far I have not got very far into that book as it is so thought-provoking I have been stopping to take copious notes from just about every page.

Brad Warner

‘Here’s my personal opinion. If you’re going to call yourself a “Zen priest” in the Soto tradition, then you had better know some “priest craft.” You’d better know how to do all the different roles in a standard chanting ceremony — like ringing the bells, offering incense, hitting the mokugyo (wooden drum shaped like a fish), chanting, and so on. You’d better know how to do a standard Zen ceremony by yourself (one person doing all of the different roles — there is a way to do this). You’d better know your tradition very well. You’d better know enough about Dogen’s philosophy to be able to explain it to someone who asks about it, or to give a lecture about it. I don’t think you have to be the greatest expert in the world about this stuff. You don’t have to know every ceremony perfectly. You don’t have to memorize all 95 chapters of Shobogenzo. But you need to know enough about this kind of stuff that you can at least do it reasonably well.

Furthermore, I’d say you also need to be able to have difficult conversations with people who come to you wanting to talk about difficult things. You need to be able to listen to their problems without judging them.’ (from Hardcore Zen)

I enjoyed reading Brad’s recent post about priest craft. The ceremonial stuff is the bread and butter of new priests’ training at Zen Center. I remember hearing that Brad’s teacher wasn’t very bothered about services, and he ended up learning most of the forms from Greg at Tassajara when he would come and stay in the summers. Personally, much as I can be a total geek about that kind of stuff (read this post if you need proof of that), I think the Dogen stuff is more important than the ceremonial stuff, and the difficult conversations are really where it is at – though having a good grip of Dogen can be very important in being able to listen to people without judging them. And if the reason for that isn’t clear, you can search through some of the many Dogen posts over the last four plus years (not to mention all the wonderful teachers who offer commentary on him) to find answers to that.