Worldly affairs pass slowly by,
Incomparable to the mountains and hills,
Lying under wisteria vines,
With a stone for my pillow.
No audience with the Son of Heaven,
Why envy princes and nobles?
No worries about life and death,
What further distress could there be?
Worldly affairs pass slowly by,
‘When we hear that zazen is about no achievement, we immediately ask, “If zazen is that, how can I do it?” But this is a question exactly stemming from the framework based on “means and end” which is always behind the shuzen approach. It is nothing but an undertaking to grasp zazen using the shuzen concept. This shuzen attitude is deeply rooted in our way of behavior and thinking. That is why we should take a radically different approach to zazen so that we can avoid changing zazen into shuzen, consciously or unconsciously.’ (from the Soto Zen Journal)
A radically different approach is what makes zazen so valuable, and so challenging (more on zazen and shuzen here).
‘When I met the Roshi, the love he showed me for many years was what got me to the monastery and what kept me there. People think Zen is cold, but my expereince was the complete opposite.
Through the training, I gradually and then very suddenly broke through the mesh of my own internal chaos. Once I found my own connection to this truth, to God or source or Grace, then I was not so needy, I did not need love anymore. I did not need it anymore ever again from anyone. It was like I was then embraced by a love I could never have imagined. And then I was able to really receive love, and to give love in normal ways as well.
The byproduct of giving in to kensho was this love shining through. Love for all things. Love for reality. It’s like we see that we are just love. And something sharable. Something I could offer to others. No longer was I such a slave to myself, but a channel to share this with others. After Kensho, the practice was not about me anymore, but about helping others. This is something more than the vow to save all beings. It was something like a cellular switch.
Now, fifteen years later, integrating all of this, I’m a goofy dad and husband. I am integrating and embodying this stuff in my own way more with each year. I’m not perfect, no way. The practice keeps that channel open. It keeps the signal coming through. It is a clear physical way for me to work with and interact with my stuck places, be that physical or emotional or all of the above, and I am constantly taught by them and reality how to yield, how to push.’ (from Zen Embodiment)
I have quoted from this lovely blog before, and this recent post summed up beautifully the stages of practice and how we come to embody them in our lives, way beyond the monastery.
Shauzhou Zhangjing said to the assembly, “If you take one step forward, you will be at odds with reality. If you take one step backward, you will lose touch with phenomena. If you remain immovable, you will be like an insentient being.”
A monk asked, “How can we not be like an insentient being?”
Shauzhou said, “Keep moving in your daily activities.”
The monk asked, “How can we not be at odds with reality and not lose touch with phenomena?”
Shauzhou said, “One step forward, one step backward.”
The monk bowed.
Shauzhou said, “In going beyond, one may understand it in this way. But I will not approve it.”
The monk said, “Master, please point directly for me.”
Shauzhou hit him and drove him out. (Shinji Shobogenzo)
The commentary points out, ‘A good sailor knows to trim the sails according to the wind.’ The wind is always moving, as Dogen reminds us in the Genjo Koan, so we should be as well. Keep moving in your daily activities. And don’t ask a second time.
‘As you are will not do; not as you are will not do. Either way, nothing will do. Now what?’
As we approach the one-year anniversary of moving into lockdown, it seems inevitable that there will be a fair amount of reminiscing. I have recently had a couple of outings to the places we took the last couple of roams – the Botanical Garden as the magnolias started to bloom, and the wave organ at the Marina – and thought back to those occasions twelve months ago. Ideas about resuming them still seem way off in the future; when I canceled my trip to England last March, I rebooked the ticket for August but reality overtook that optimism ; these days I have a notion that it might feel safe to get on a trans-Atlantic flight by the end of the summer, though I suspect I will be disappointed again.
It is commonplace, and completely understandable, to talk of how frazzled we all are from the impact of lockdown and isolation. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to continue earning money, and co-habiting with my partner for the past few months has taken care of my suffering from lack of human contact and brought so much joy to my day-to-day life.
As you may recall from the time, getting out on my bike has also contributed greatly to my well-being during the lockdowns. What I have most noticed about my riding in the past year is how I have shaped my routes to avoid aggravations. This partly started with not crossing the bridge to ride in Marin: apart from my increased anxiety when being on the bridge itself, unless there is no wind at all, I had been finding in recent years that the traffic in and around Mill Valley and Mount Tam to be of greater volume and often accompanied by less consideration – or sometimes greater aggression. There are incredible landscapes to be ridden out in Marin, and I have been riding them for two decades; now I am less convinced that they are worth the hassle of getting there.
In place of that, I have been building up my repertoire south of the city. Some of the landscapes are not so tremendous, but the riding is more relaxing. San Bruno Mountain is not as tall as Mount Tam, but is much easier to get to, and has two car-free sections on its slopes; Sweeney Ridge has been a revelation in the past year – also car-free towards the top, and the trail along the San Andreas reservoirs to Crystal Springs a wonderful retreat from traffic.
The last time I was out on the trail, a couple of weeks ago, though, I despaired at the number of people not wearing masks on what was a busy morning, when you couldn’t go a few yards without passing someone, the trail being too narrow to give six feet of space. So I have put that aside for the time being – unless I can go earlier, or on a week day – and instead focus on the other good riding possibilities. The mental map I have been creating is now pretty robust. I find that even doing a route once leaves an impression: oh, this is a tough climb, but nice; this stretch has too many cars; this route is more relaxing than the slightly more direct way. My body relaxes or tenses in response to this stored memory, and I am doing my best not to add more tension in my life.
It feels like doing this – choosing routes with less aggravation – is a way I am taking care of myself. I am building a good set of habits to help me keep my equanimity. This is something that is worth doing in all aspects of our lives. What would it look like for you?
‘Daowu was sitting on the high seat of meditation when a monk came and asked, “What is the greatest depth of the teaching?” Daowu came down from the seat to kneel on the floor saying, “You are here after traveling from afar, but I am sorry to have nothing to answer you.”’ (The Iron Flute)
Another teacher just wanting something nice to eat…
to the village but
I don’t even know
what the houses look like.
‘This mountain monk has not lectured for the sake of the assembly for a long time. Why is this? Every moment the Buddha hall, the monks’ hall, the valley streams, and the pine and bamboo endlessly speak on my behalf, fully for the sake of all people. Have you all heard it or not? If you say you heard it, what did you hear? If you say that you have not heard it, you do not keep the five precepts.’ (Extensive Record, discourse 49)
Perhaps he also wanted a nice hot bath and something good to eat…
‘I began to discover the mountain in itself. Everything became good to me, its contours, its colours, its waters and rock, flowers and birds. This process has taken many years, and is not yet complete. Knowing another is endless. And I have discovered that man’s experience of them enlarges rock, flower and bird. The thing to be known grows with the knowing.’ (The Living Mountain)
When I read this passage, I cannot help but hear echoes of Dogen, with the proviso that while things grow with the knowing, the thing itself is beyond the knowing.