‘Students cannot gain enlightenment simply because they retain their preconceptions. Without knowing who taught them these things, they consider the mind to be thought and perceptions, and do not believe it when they are told that the mind is plants and trees. They think of the Buddha as having marvelous distinguishing marks, with radiance shining from his body, and are shocked when they are told he is tile and pebble. Such preconceptions were not taught to them by their parents, but students come to believe them for no other reason than that they have heard about them from others over a long period of time. Therefore, when the Buddhas and the Patriarchs categorically state that the mind is plants and trees, revise your preconceptions and understand plants and trees as mind. If the Buddha is said to be tile and pebble, consider tile and pebble as the Buddha. If you change your basic preconceptions, you will be able to gain the Way.’ (Shobogenzo Zuimonki)
Are you shocked to hear that Buddha is tile and pebble?
‘When we are set free from the way we sign and package the world, we are also free from believing in that packaging. For example, some people look across the room and say, “Those are my friends,” and other people look across the room and say, “Those are my enemies,” and both of them think that their packaging, the signs they put on those people, are actually the people. But the signs they put on them, friends and enemies, are really just cognition. Without realizing that, it’s hard not to be disturbed, hassled, and afflicted by the signed phenomena. Signed phenomena, phenomena that have been made graspable, afflict us and agitate us. We may not be able to stop our mind from signing phenomena, but with the aid of this teaching of mind-only, the signed phenomena won’t disturb us. In other words, we can become calm, compassionate, and free with signed phenomena, even while the mind continues to do the packaging.’ (The Third Turning of the Wheel)
‘You, just as you are, and your life right here and right now, are all there is and all you need to know. You don’t have to do anything special. Mostly, you have to be open to meeting face-to-face, and even dancing with, the truth that pertains to your life right now. You have to find a way to collect your fractured pieces, examine them and accept them as part of who you are. Spiritual practice is about transformation, but it’s also, and more important, about working with what is. All of us must learn to honor our whole selves just as we come, just as we are.’ (Being Black)
Breathing in, I wash the dishes, Aware of their usefulness in holding Nourishing meals that have sustained my family for many years. I wonder why it is always, always me doing the dishes By myself, And whether, interconnected as all human beings are, This may be the one exception. Breathing out, I release my feelings into the universe, ever hopeful that someone, somewhere, Will sense my need, And offer to help. I open my heart to the possibility of this miracle.
‘We, as ordinary human beings, are always seeking for something that will give us self satisfaction. In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, this way of being is called “bonpu.” It literally means “an ordinary person.” It is so difficult for us as bonpu to become relaxed or restful because we are constantly seeking for something. This pattern of restlessness is so deeply rooted in us that we naturally feel zazen practice as something very unsatisfying, disappointing, and nonresponsive. This might sound strange, but in zazen we as bonpu are satisfied with this unsatisfactoriness, or we rest in deep peace with uneasiness. That is exactly what zazen is all about. It is the most wonderful thing about zazen. It is, of course, very hard for us as bonpu to understand and accept this. But it is, above all, important to sincerely study and wholeheartedly practice this kind of zazen without distorting it. When we start zazen practice, we should clearly understand this point beforehand.’ (From the Soto Zen Journal)
It’s all about accepting our limitations and limited views.
‘The only good advice I ever got about zazen or Zen practice in general is: “It takes time.” I never wanted to believe this, but I think it’s the only advice that anyone gives that is actually true. You just have to sit for a long time, for many years, and then wisdom and trust develop. There are no wise words that are going to help you because there is no substitute for doing it yourself. There’s no teacher who can say anything that will be a substitute for your own time and effort. I believe this based on the very few years I have actually spent sitting zazen because, even in a few years, my relationship to zazen has changed so much. I can only imagine what it will be like thirty years down the road. I think the only useful thing a teacher can do is to show someone that their life is their own life and their karma is their own karma, meaning that you’re choosing how to live your life in every moment.’ (Bow First, Ask Questions Later)
‘When we reflect on the Buddha, we are reflecting on an example of a being who modeled a particular path of enlightenment based on the premise that we can train the mind to let go of delusion and embrace clarity. When we reflect on the dharma, we reflect on the teachings of the Buddha as well as the truth, or the law of how things really are as they relate to letting go of delusion and embracing clarity. When we reflect on the sangha, or spiritual community, we are reflecting on the community of fellow practitioners who are working together supporting one another to let go of delusion and embrace clarity. These are the traditional three supports we rely on in oour practice to obtain liberation… Without support, we get lost in the delusion and lose our relationship with clarity.’ (Love and Rage)
‘You can use whatever metaphor comes up for you that will help you spot an unskillful thought and drop it. I had an image once of myself moving a piano and putting it down on my foot. Well, if you don’t want the piano on your foot, don’t put it there. Find whatever kind of image will help you laugh at yourself a bit instead of castigating yourself for having such thoughts. You could congratulate yourself for noticing the thought so that now you can let it go. I can get into criticizing myself a lot. But it’s much more effective if I congratulate myself for doing something right than if I hit myself over the head for doing something wrong.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)
‘A monk asked Qingyuan, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?” Qingyuan said, “It’s just like this!” The monk asked further, “What do you have to teach these days?” Qingyuan said, “Come closer.” The monk moved closer. Qingyuan said, “Keep this in mind.” (Shinji Shobogenzo)
I can’t say that I am used to Kansas weather, but I understand that September is one of the best months to visit – for the same reasons as that is usually true in San Francisco: warm sunny days, with just a hint of the changing seasons ahead.
Of course this year, nothing is quite as it should be. I left San Francisco on the famous morning where the sun never came up, and the skies remained eerily orange all day. It was quite something to witness as I left early to the airport, and took off in skies that seemed to be only getting darker. There was no sight of the ground until we were across the Sierras, and even then, smoke could be seen hanging in valleys. It was also cool and rainy for the first couple of days in the midwest, before resuming a more typical week of mostly eighty-degree weather.
The initial plan had us starting the drive west last Thursday, but, even though the air had cleared in San Francisco after a hellish week, by all accounts, there were a number of fires close to our intended route, and bad air in several states that we had to cross. And we weren’t really in any hurry. So we stayed put, and are still determining whether to leave in a day or two, or to stay a full week more. Such work as I have can easily be done remotely (though trying to take the time zones into account makes me fear I am missing appointments), and this is the only kind of vacation I am going to get this year. Where we are staying, the garden sloping away from the house reminds me of being in Cornwall at my father’s house, where there is a similar sense of nothing much that needs to be done. We settle into happy, lazy days.
As always when I travel, the absence of a bike means I have laced up my running shoes – for the first time since the spring. This has felt like hard work, but I am always glad to move my body a few times a week.
Whenever it is that we leave, there will undoubtedly be many adventures on the road, not to mention hour after hour of compelling landscapes that will be entirely new to me. When we arrive, and settle into the new apartment, I expect there will be a sense of hunkering down for the winter, since the virus does not seem to be going anywhere any time soon.