Nishiari Bokusan

‘The reason lotus flowers are not stained with mud is that they are free within mud. If they remove themselves from mud and go to a field, they will become dried out. But what would happen if the lotus flowers are stuck in the mud? Then they cannot give forth their fragrance. Now look! Being separate is not good. Being attached is not good. Not being separate and not being attached is called going beyond.’ (Dogen’s Genjo Koan – Three Commentaries)

I just picked up the keys to my new place, so there will be a couple of reposts in the next week or two.

Trust

‘“One could tell the story of human civilization as a story of how we learned to trust one another,” (Benjamin) Ho writes. “We learned first to share the spoils of a group hunt instead of hunting and eating (or not eating) alone.” He cites the British evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, who noticed that natural community size for primates seemed directly related to brain size—the greater the relative size of the neocortex, the larger the tribe. For large-brained Homo sapiens, the predicted maximal group size, also called Dunbar’s number, was a hundred and fifty. (The number, Dunbar says, recurs in the estimated average sizes of the Bronze Age communities that built stone circles, of Anglo-Saxon villages listed in the Domesday Book, and of contemporary Facebook communities.) The concept has its critics, but the basic idea—that there are probably capacity constraints on the number of personal connections we can make with our fellow-humans—seems hard to dispute…

E. O. Wilson, the eminent biologist, once remarked that “the real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.” Digital technology has shredded the putative infallibility of once vaunted institutions: the holiest figures, the grandest politicians, the greatest newspapermen. “Whatever the headlines say, this isn’t the age of distrust—far from it,” (Rachel) Botsman writes. The ambit of trust has merely shifted. “Trust and influence now lie more with individuals than they do with institutions…”

In the end, though, trust isn’t a property that can be measured in the abstract, like some sort of social ether. It characterizes a relationship.’ (from the New Yorker)

As I got on the ferry on Tuedsay, the skies were spectacular. It was warm and humid, and I had started to wonder if it was going to be the one day that it rains in the summer – there always seems to be one. The clouds reminded me rather of the storms that rolled through last summer, whose lightning strikes wreaked fiery havoc in the forests. And then I thought, ‘Every day is a good day.’ I was reminded, in Baizhang’s memorable phrase, that we trust we can find something wonderful in any circumstance, even as other things might be terrible. 

When I read this article later the same day, I enjoyed the reminder of the Dunbar number, as that seemed to fit well with how I feel about sangha, especially as it coalesced around Zen Center. Then I thought, ‘I trust that everyone I meet has the potential to be Buddha, even if their current behaviour is not manifesting that.’

Annie Murphy Paul

‘The thing about the outdoors and the way that the human species evolved in the outdoors, all the information that we encounter, the sensory information that we encounter in nature, is processed really easily and effortlessly and efficiently by the brain. Our sensory faculties are kind of tuned to the kind of information and stimuli that we encounter in nature. And so this is, again, this is the scientific reason behind what everybody knows, which is that you feel more relaxed and more at ease when you take a walk outside and when you spend time in nature.

But what that has to do with attention is that that kind of diffuse attention that we’re able to spend in nature, where we’re not focusing very intently on anything but we’re just kind of allowing the gentle movements and the sort of soft contours of the things that we see outside just entertain our attention but in this very diffuse way, and the phrase psychologists use that I like is called soft fascination. It’s not a hard edged concentration. It’s a kind of soft fascination that you might experience when you’re looking at leaves rustling in the wind or watching waves on the ocean.

That state restores our attention. It kind of refills the tank in a sense. And so then we can return to our desk and we can return to that hard edged kind of concentration that we have to do to complete our studies or do our work. So I would say in your example that if you need to concentrate but you’re feeling frazzled, even a brief look out the window can have this kind of restorative effect. But ideally, a longer walk in nature would be good.’ (from the New York Times)

To which I can only add, the next roam is on Saturday!

Kobun Chino

‘Continuously I suggest that you have good posture, because posture is a sort of proof of the mind situation, a reflection of your invisible life which penetrates the body. Let your mind ride on good breathing, smooth, deep, even breathing, coming in and going out, which keeps you from slipping out of the present moment. As soon as you forget the breath, mind phenomena color your breath and all sorts of movies go on in that breath. Your body continuously reflects whatever is going on in those personal movies.’ (Embracing Mind)

This is a wonderful subtle observation of the sitting process.

Transitions

For many years, I have thought of September as more of a month of transition than January. From new school and college years, to starting the monastic winter at Tassajara, this turning of seasons has been more resonant. This year I am getting a head start. As the weather continues to fluctuate between San Francisco summer and other people’s idea of summer, changes are afoot.

At the end of the week I should be picking up the keys to my new place. I find myself thinking about it a lot, imagining how it will be to live there; all I have in terms of visuals is a shaky video I took walking around the space when I viewed it a couple of weeks ago. Some boxes have been packed, ready to transport over once we have access. I want to meaure everything to see what will fit where, though we have already off-loaded a few pieces of furniture and a box of old clothes. 

In the meantime we have been saying goodbye to our current neighbourhood, frequenting bars and restaurants that have mostly felt off-limits during the pandemic. There are a number of really lovely places to eat and drink within walking distance, and we have had a great time doing it. Once I move, I will have the Divisadero corridor and the Lower Haight, both of which I know a little, to explore. I will be glad to be in a quieter building (at least, fingers crossed for quieter neighbours than we have here), and to be closer to some green spaces.

Another shift to report is, with roams under way (and another one scheduled for Saturday), Zachary and I agreed it was time to try sitting in person again, so if you are local and able to get to the Embarcadero in the middle of the day, please come and join us for some open-air lunch-time meditation by the water. It may even be sunnny.

It was foggy down by Ocean Beach on Saturday when we went over for a social call.
And it was gorgeously sunny at Crane Cove on Sunday.
And at Alamo Square, we were just about at the fog line.

Yunju

‘Yunju once saw a monk silently reading a sutra in his room. He asked the monk through the window, “Reverend, what sutra are you reading?”

The monk said, “The Vimalakirti Sutra.

Yunju said, “I am not asking you about the Vimalakirti Sutra. What sutra are you reading?”

At this the monk entered realization.’ (quoted in Shobogenzo Kankin)

How much of reality is reading in any one moment?

Suzuki Roshi

‘Student: When does my life express the Dharma and when does it not?

Suzuki Roshi: When it does not? There is no time when it doesn’t. It always expresses the Dharma.

Student: But sometimes better than others?

Suzuki Roshi: Don’t think in that way. Always expressing. You are always expressing the buddha-nature. That is you who thinks you are expressing “better” or “not so good.”’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

Hui-neng

‘Enlightenment and ignorance are seen by ordinary people as two, while the wise realize their essential nature has no duality. The essential nature without duality is the true nature. True nature is not diminished in the ordinary and ignorant, nor is it increased in the wise and the holy; it is not deranged in affliction, and it is not quiescent in meditation concentration. It does not come to an end, nor does it endure forever; it does not come and go, and it is not in the middle or the inside or outside. Unborn and unperishing, nature and characteristics as such, permanent and unchanging – this is called the Way.’ (The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch)

Katagiri Roshi

‘We use the terms universal effort and individual effort, but actually there is no gap between them. You take care of universal effort by your individual effort. It’s a little difficult to do this because we are always critical toward our own effort. We attach to getting a certain result from our effort. Then we judge it in terms of ideas and emotions connected with our heredity, education, consciousness, and memories coming from the past, so it’s very complicated. Universal effort is very simple. That’s why we try to understand out lives in terms of the universal perspective. How?

When you wash your face, accept washing as universal effort first, and then make your individual effort. Deal with everything – your face, the waater, your posture of standing in front of the basin – as universal activity. Through the actions of washing your face, you can go beyond your usual understanding and experience the pure nature of washing your face. This is the realm of total dynamic action. Right in the middle of taking good care of your individual effort as universal effort, the whole world comes into one screen. That one screen is the big picture of your life. When you see that living screen, you can learn who you really are.’ (The Light That Shines Through Infinity)

Some serendipitous moments around this post: first of all, I think it acts as an excellent commentary on Dogen’s post from yesterday. This was not something I planned out when I sat down to type some posts at the beginning of the week. With my impending move, I have started packing up books, and set aside ones that I knew I could use for blog posts. This particular volume of Katagiri’s talks is one I knew I hadn’t referenced for a while, though I had previously noted various passages as suitable for the blog.

When I opened to this particular page, I found a bookmark – an old-fashioned sales slip from the kimono shop in Japantown, dated January 2020, from when my partner first visited San Francisco; an afternoon in Japantown was a part of our first weekend together. I wanted her advice on a nice kimono I could wear as a bathrobe, to replace one that had worn out after ten years of regular use. A month or two ago I tried to visit the store again, but it was closed. Last week, my partner and I went to Japantown again on an outing, and saw a sign on the store window directing us to a different store in the mall – one I recognised as soon as I entered as the place my dharma sister Djinn went to for the best matcha. I bought a noren hanging that I could use as a backdrop for Zoom calls (the reason I wanted to visit recently) and two little calligraphies, one saying love, and one saying health, our two main focuses in these past eighteen months.