Norman Fischer

‘The basic technique for concentration involves bringing the mind to the object of concentration and patiently training it, through repetition, to stay with the object. This is not easy to do. The mind naturally gets distracted, tired, and/or bored. It is not used to staying put unless it has some distinct drive toward pleasure or satisfaction. When you try to concentrate your mind in meditation, you are impressed with how little control you have over your mind. It is humbling to realize that you can tell your mind, in all seriousness, “Stay still,” but it won’t stay still. You can’t control it. It makes you wonder who is in charge of whom. Still, if you keep with it, you eventually develop some ability to focus, and maybe once in a while you come into a moment of strong single-pointed concentration, which is peaceful and calming. Developing concentration takes much more time than you might have thought. It also takes faith, diligence, determination, and support.’ (The World Could Be Otherwise)

I think we’ve all been there…


‘Some people think that buddha nature is like seeds of grass and trees: when dharma rain is abundant, sprouts and stems grow; branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit mature; and their fruit contains seeds. Such a view is an assumption of ordinary people. If you come up with such an assumption, investigate thoroughly that each and every seed, flower and fruit is itself pure mind.
A fruit has seeds that are not visible, but develop roots, stems, and so forth. The elements of the plants are not assembled from outside, but branches and twigs grow. Not limited to inside or outside, the growth of plants is not in vain, past and present. Thus, even if you take up the view of ordinary people, the rooots, stems, branches, and leaves are the all are of buddha nature that arises and perishes simultaneously with all things.’ (Shobogenzo Bussho)

If it isn’t clear, he is basically saying that buddha nature is not a process of becoming, it’s what is behind the process, and everything else. At least, that’s how I see it.

angel Kyodo williams

‘I always say that I’m not nation-building around Zen; I’m not nation-building around Buddhism. I think we have to let go of nation-building. What we’re seeing with the introduction and the taking up in the water of different faiths and traditions is people being able to organize themselves and relate to things that actually speak to the complexity of the truth of who they are in a way that wasn’t possible before, because we simply didn’t have the access. We simply couldn’t see as many faiths. It was like a one size fits all, and it was like, “OK, you’re either going to be Catholic or you’re going to be Protestant. And if neither one of those outfits fit you, too bad.” But now we’re like, “Whoa! Not just am I going to be Catholic or Protestant, but I can choose Buddhism, I can choose Tibetan Buddhism, I can choose from four different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and Zen, and Korean Zen, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s community. I have all of this access.”

We are more complex human beings. Technology is opening that up for us—an awareness of our complexity—and we need a language to speak to that complexity. The role of the traditions is to actually offer people a language to have a communion with themselves, with God, with the Divine, with the great matter. It is not our role to have them have a communion with our pockets. But our role is to offer people the language in which they can meet themselves, meet their god, meet their creator, meet their divine—and to not be mediators who steal the show and mistake ourselves for that divinity, to mistake ourselves for that knowing, that truth, that power, that witness. Our role is just to offer the Logos, the word—just to give people the word and to get out of the way.’ (from an interview with Emergence Magazine)


The temperature dropped, quite considerably, on Wednesday. As much as I usually grumble about the fog, I was glad of it on this occasion, as the coolness and humidity would ease the work of the firefighters all over the state. Maybe some relief is at hand. The air had been hard to breathe on occasion – I went out on my bike on Sunday morning, when the index seemed okay, and discovered that this did not apply everywhere. The better air correlated entirely with where the fog normally lives – no doubt due to the movement of the marine layer, and elsewhere it was desperately smoky.

Up by Skyline at Millbrae
I thought the air might be better along Skyline, but it was not

Last week it felt like we were stretched even tighter than we had been already, between the pandemic, the heat, the smoke, with no sense of relief in sight. Fragility was the watchword. The friends who had just moved down to Boulder Creek had to evacuate; luckily they could stay with family nearby. It seemed touch and go as to whether Tassajara would be completely evacuated. Seeing pictures of the statues being buried in the bocce court brought back vivid memories of 2008.

Joseph and Bryan carrying the Buddha from the zendo to the bocce court

On Tuesday night we talked about refuge in my student group; one of them works in land conservation in the Santa Cruz area, and mourned the loss of the redwoods, where he was used to going for refuge. Remembering the maps that the Forest Service fire crews had brought to Tassajara in 2008, I knew that all of that wilderness had burned just in the hundred or so years of record keeping. And that redwoods know how to endure fires. I thought that rather than thinking of us saving the redwoods, we could be wondering about the redwoods saving us.

Devin, Captain Jack and David Z consulting the maps

In the midst of all this, I am planning to move into a new place – and thankful that I can take my time packing, rather than being forced to gather my most precious possessions in minutes as many people have been. I hope for this place to be a refuge, through what will most likely be a long and bleak winter, and it was chosen with that perspective in mind – enough space for my love and I to be on separate video calls when necessary.

I talked about all these things on Wednesday with the Hebden group, the last of the talks I am scheduled to give in this series that began in April. If you want to hear how the conversation has evolved, with themes reflecting the times we have been living through, they are all up on the audio page. I have been very grateful for that ongoing connection, and the sense of extended sangha that came with it; I always trust that this sangha feeling never dissipates. Connections endure, the practice endures. We all support each other to do our best and to guide others along the path.

My notes for the Hebden Bridge talk

Rosen Takashina

‘Stillness in the midst of action is the fundamental principle of Zazen (sitting in meditation).  Some people think of Zazen as a sort of monopoly of the Zen sect, but the sect certainly has no monopoly of it.  Zazen is the basis of the universe.  Heaven and earth sit in meditation, every object sits in meditation.  Knowing nothing of the Zen sect, all things are performing their meditation.’ (from The Tiger’s Cave)

To follow on from yesterday’s post.

Corey Ichigen Hess

‘Doing this creative, natural standing practice was a gateway for me to open up.  I started out of desperation.  It saved my life.  It awoke my zazen.  It gave me great faith in life being lived through me.  I think we all can do this, it is not something special.  Please have faith that even in simple practices we can discover universal truth.  Let’s discover what is beyond technique.  A deep clear samadhi is our birthright.’ (From Zen Embodiment)

This reminded me of one version of the third Pure Precept, which I recite to myself regularly when doing prostrations: I vow to live and be lived for the benefit of all beings. It’s good to remember that we are not necessarily in charge of all this, at least in the way we think we would like to be. So much more happens when we can let go like this.


‘Deepest zazen doesn’t change anything outside of us. It makes clear the interconnected nature of all things and if we just stare at the nature of all things including what we refer to as our minds and bodies, our attitude can change…drop by drop.’ (from the Boundless in Motion blog)

Yvonne Rand

‘Harry Roberts was a teacher who worked with many of us involved in planting the garden and fields at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. Harry had lived at Green Gulch for a while and then lived with me and my family for the last several years of his life. As he was dying he asked me, “What are you gonna do with the ‘carcass’ after I die?” I told him, “First of all, I’ll close all the orifices, and then I’ll wash your body with tea made from yerba sante that I have collected from Mt. Tamalpais. Then we’ll put some medicine pieces from your own wisdom tradition into your hands. We’ll sit with your body for three days, and then we’ll take your body to be cremated, or we can bury you somewhere.” And he said, “That’s too much trouble. Just put the carcass out the back door and let the dogs take care of it!”

Harry was quite equanimous about his body. He was in the late stages of dying for two months. I’ve never experienced anyone else take that long a time in the late stages of dying. Harry was so thorough in his lifetime; he did everything slowly and carefully. And that’s exactly how he died!’ (from Inquiring Mind)

I read this week that Yvonne Rand had died; I never really met her, though she was present at a few big Zen Center occasions I was at, but she was very close to Suzuki Roshi, and very involved in the early years, so this is another connection to those times lost.

Yvonne Rand at the Zen Center 50th Annicersary celebrations in 2012