‘I’m often pretty disgusted with some of the things I see passing for Zen. I’ve been pretty outspoken about some of these things — for example, the instant enlightenment seminars offered by certain so-called “Zen Masters.” I’ve often tempted to do what Toni Packer and others have done and just drop the words Zen and Buddhism entirely.
But I haven’t done so because I feel that would be dishonest. Any insight I have to offer came from the Zen Buddhist tradition, from Zen Buddhist teachers, from the Zen Buddhist environment. If I tried to pretend otherwise I’d be lying. I sometimes regret having taken the vows and become a Zen monk. But I did so. I could declare my vows null and void, but even that would be dishonest. I took them. They’ll never truly be null and void.
I don’t think we can find a Zen that transcends all cultural trappings. Even if we scrupulously attempt to remove everything that tastes the least bit Asian, we’re still left with our own cultural trappings.’ (from Hardcore Zen)
I have a regular conversation with one of my dharma sisters about how it is that we express our practice in this culture, and this was helpful to read (the post is nominally about Godzilla, which is also illuminating). I can’t say that I ever regret taking the vows, though, even if I have upheld them imperfectly.
‘I’m trying to get you to interact directly with reality. It is as if we have an orange in our hands. We see the orange and we wonder, “Is that a delicious orange?” We can directly touch it, we peel it, smell it, take a bite out of it, and yet we are still asking outwardly about it. Maybe we ask someone else, “Is that orange delicious?” Or we look it up in a book written long ago, “Do the sutras say it’s a delicious orange? Do they tell me how to experience that orange? Am I doing it right? Am I worthy of tasting it myself?” We may ask a teacher, “How should I taste that orange?”’ (from Zen Embodiment)
‘Do not regard great enlightenment as becoming a buddha, returning to the source, and manifesting a buddha body. Do not regard becoming deluded as returning to be a sentient being. People with mistaken views talk about breaking great enlightenment and returning to be a sentient being…
Great enlightenment is limitless, delusion is limitless, and delusion does not hinder great enlightenment; take up threefold great enlightenment and turn it into a half-fold minor delusion. Thus the Himalayas are greatly enlightened to benefit the Himalayas. Wood and stone are greatly enlightened taking the forms of wood and stone.’ (Shobogenzo Daigo)
‘From the very first zazen, even if you live full of delusions and problems from the sprouting of your great compassion, your zazen becomes zazen. Your physical body is the ground where knowledge and understanding arise. They are not given to you, but discovered from you, as you receive or reflect on teaching. Otherwise, there is no teaching coming to you. The treasure is within you. Teaching doesn’t come from outside of you. Your heart beat, your breathing, are not all that are within you, some cosmic reality is there and you are experiencing it.’ (Embracing Mind)
‘We can never solve our lives. Life is not a thing that can be broken and then fixed. Life is a process, and we can never solve a process. We can only participate in this process, either consciously or unconsciously. We aren’t going to find the perfect formula and then coast our way through life. We can’t make pain go away, although we can reduce unnecessary suffering significantly. The more deeply we investigate, the less we can grasp or even know this apparent self that Western psychology takes as its foundation. From the Buddhist perspective, the nature of life—and of our own mind—is basically open. There is no foundation; no ground to stand on. We can consciously participate in this open nature, but we can’t know it.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
Compare and contrast with this post from a week ago.
Moving is a pretty exhausting business. The movers came on Friday, and were skilful enough to pull in right after the street cleaner had driven through. The whole process took about the same amount of time as a year ago, although at least this time we were not in the middle of a heatwave. I still have some cleaning to do at the old place – most of which seemed prudent to leave until it was empty – and some finishing up to do here.
Apart from the quiet, and the small deck at the back, one of the main features of the new place is two lovely built-in cupboards. Since I have a couple of other storage spots, I have been working out how to make best use of them. The kitchen one obviously has plates and glasses in the upper half, as well as all my old photo albums along the top shelf (and negatives and discs full of photos in one of the deep drawers), and the open shelf is becoming what I call the whimsical altar, full of mementoes, rocks, sticks, and other things that I often have had on display in the past. In the main room, the built-in struck me right away as the best backdrop for the regular Zoom teachings (though I have not done one yet, and the internet is way slower than the smooth fibre optic connection we were just enjoying). The open shelf will be a more formal altar, and I realised it would be lovely to have a drawer for all the incense (not actually allowed per the lease, but I still have supplies of it for weddings and such), extra candles, matches, and the many altar style cloths I have accumulated. It takes me right back to the days of chidening, taking care of the altars, which was one of my very first temple jobs at Zen Center.
It feels very quiet and dull without my beloved, and it is, I realised, the first time I have lived on my own since I left London at the turn of the millennium. I remember how to do it, of course, and that it is really not my favourite thing. Luckily I made some mildly social plans over the weekend, taking photographs for the Bicycle Coalition at a bike donation event for kids on Saturday morning; the kids were adorable of course, and their enthusiasm showed even with masks on. My ride on Sunday was punctuated by stretches chatting to other riders who were heading in the same direction as me, and ended at the Great Highway, where there was a rally to keep it in its pandemic car-free state permanently, the mayor having suddenly decided to open it during the week, and where it was nice to see some familiar faces from the bike world.
‘Someone may ask us how this kind of practice will benefit our everyday life. The answer may be no benefit, as Bodhidharma said, “no merit.” But we mean by merit: merit and no merit. Beneficial and not beneficial. Mahayana Buddhists emphasize the saving of others and the saving of ourselves. To save others is to save ourselves. It does not mean to save others after we save ourselves, or to save others before we save ourselves. Our way is “to save others is to save ourselves.” To hear a sound is for the sound to arise. It is one activity. We practice this kind of practice because for us there is no other way to appease our inmost desire. Until we attain this way of life, our inmost desire will not be appeased.
So Dogen Zenji always emphasized “beginner’s mind.” We should always remain in beginner’s mind. It means our experience should always be refreshed and renewed. It means always have the joy of discovering something. The same joy as children discovering something new. This kind of experience is not possible to attain just by training through which you expect some result.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
This is from a one-day sitting talk from 1965; in talks before this, there are several mentions of ‘inmost desire’, and in a talk less than a month later, he talked about ‘beginner’s mind’ again…
‘It is very easy not to perceive injustices that we ourselves have unknowingly helped to institute. It is even more difficult to see these injustices when they are embedded in routine practices that have come to be assumed in our social world. The “normal” way things are done can hide insensitivities in which we are all complicit. Racism was not intended by many of us who lived in twentieth-century America, but that lack of intention did not prevent extensive racial injustice. Ecological disaster is not intended by those of us in developed nations with typical habits of consumption, but that lack of intention does not remove the responsibility that we will share for having brought that outcome to pass. Meditation names the activity that strives to engender mindfulness through a variety of reflective and unreflective means. It can be structured to yield forms of awareness that put us in touch not just with the overt and obvious ramifications of our acts but also with a much richer and more comprehensive account of how we effect the world around us.’ (The Six Perfections)
From the morality chapter; while I was typing this out, I thought to highlight that this book was published in 2009, so he is not responding just to the current waves of awareness around both of these topics, but that this is part and parcel of living an awakened life in the twenty-first century. But I was also feeling anger in my fingertips that actually, some people did intend harm, for whatever reason, in both spheres, and we have to reckon with this side of humanity as well. At times I feel pessimistic about these things; and, as I believe I have posted elsewehere, as a Bodhisattva, the effort we can make is to be as good an example as we can, to act with our best efforts, again and again, trusting that there will be a difference made.
‘There is nothing special about being ordained. Enlightenment is not limited to ordained people. The practice is the same for ordained and non-ordained, but the form of ordination allows others to immediately see the depth of one’s vow. It is not about sporting a particular look but about making a deep commitment. When someone has vowed to liberate people in the direst straits of sociaty, having an outward manifestion of that vow can be very helpful.’ (Not One Single Thing)
I have been finding going to sleep less easy than usual, having no-one alongside me, and many things to plan ahead of the move. Reading myself to sleep has been a tried-and-tested method for me, so it has been a consolation to pick up this tremendous book again.