Yaoshan

The disciples Daowu and Yunyan stood in attendance to the master. Master Yaoshan pointed to two trees, one flourishing and one withering, and asked Daowu, “Better to flourish or to wither?” Daowu replied, “To flourish.” The master said, “Shining everywhere, bright and glorious.” Then, he asked Yunyan, “Better to flourish or to wither?” Yunyan replied, “To wither.” The master said, “Shining everywhere, let it wither and fade.” Another disciple, Novice Gao suddenly came, and the master asked him also. Gao replied, “Let the withering one wither, let the flourishing one flourish.” The master looked at both Daowu and Yunyan and said, “wrong, wrong.”

As the old conjugation has it: better, best, bested.


I thought this one was worthy of a re-run in its entirety, but then I couldn’t resist adding that, as Dogen says about Bodhidharma’s four successors, they all have it entirely right.

Rebecca Solnit

‘Climate chaos makes us fear that we will lose what is beautiful in this world. I want to say that in 50 years, and 100 years, the moon will rise, and be beautiful, and shine its silvery light across the sea, even if the coastline isn’t where it used to be. In 50 years, the light on the mountains, and the way every raindrop on a blade of grass refracts light will still be beautiful. Flowers will bloom and they will be beautiful; children will be born, and they, too, will be beautiful.

Only when it is over will we truly see the ugliness of this era of fossil fuels and rampant economic inequality. Part of what we are fighting for is beauty, and this means giving your attention to beauty in the present. If you forget what you’re fighting for, you can become miserable, bitter and lost.’ (from the Guardian)

Kosho Uchiyama

‘A community of practitioners traditionally is called a “pure and clean, great ocean of people.” Don’t defiled thoughts arise at all in their minds? Yes they do! In fact, because monks live in a quiet setting without moving around much, they actually have more random thoughts that are difficult to deal with. Even though various thoughts can be as powerful as a typhoon, an important point of practice is to remain unmoved by them. While they may very well have various mental or emotional problems, monks in a monastery just keep practicing quietly. By doing this, they truly understand that thoughts are merely the brain’s secretions. This is the reality of practice in a monastery.’ (Deepest Practice, Deepest Wisdom)

This resonates with my own experience. With limited stimulus, and a lot of silence, the mind has free rein. What you learn to do is just sit with it.

Dogen

‘Just let dharma be the same as food, and let food be the same as dharma. For this reason, if dharmas are the dharma nature, then food is also the dharma nature. If the dharma is suchness, food also is suchness. If the dharma is the single mind, food also is the single mind. If the dharma is bodhi, food is also bodhi.’ (Eihei Shingi, Fushukuhanpo)

I had a mind to pick up the Pure Standards again and this is the page it opened to. As with Suzuki Roshi addressing his students, I wonder if there was an agenda here. It is often said that Dogen, who was brought up around the imperial court, might have found the manners of some of his young monks somewhat lacking, so even apart from the correct notion of treating everything equally as dharma, there might have been an edge of etiquette creeping in here.

Suzuki Roshi

‘We should be very grateful to the rigid formal way of practicing Zen and Zen precepts. You may think these precepts are useless if we cannot observe them perfectly. But they are the traces of human efforts based on the great mercy of Buddha. The life we have now is the result of such useless effort. From one-celled animals to monkeys. I do not know how long, but we wasted much time, many efforts until we came to this human life. The giant redwood trees of Muir Woods have annual rings or layers and we have these annual layers in our human life too, I think. That is precepts in its wide sense. You say we don’t want them, but you have them. As long as you do, you should sit, and thus you have to know how to continue your effort to have another annual ring. In this way we will develop Buddhism more and more forever.

Strictly speaking we must have more precepts in America. You think 250 precepts for men and 500 for women is awful and that it should be made simpler. But I think you have to add some more to the precepts we have in Japan. Actually, I think you will have more difficulty in practicing zazen in America than we do in Japan. This kind of difficulty should be continued forever or we will not have peace in our world. Without the precepts there can be no congenial life for human beings. By reflecting on our human life and by respecting the precepts and rules of humanity, we will know the direction in which to make an effort and we will have the right orientation in our life. This is how we practice Zen and how Buddhism has been developed.

Do you have any questions?

Student A: You think we may need more precepts in the United States. Can you suggest some?

SR: No, not now. I do not want to disturb your practice.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

Another talk from 1965, where Suzuki Roshi is insisting on the precepts. I wonder about the context for all of that.

Continued Stillness

I have continued to feel lucky with the roams. This past weekend was warm, windless, and clear again, and a nice group, almost all regulars now, came around Russian Hill with me – finding stillness and quietness in the midst of the city, even while a number of agreeable conversation were happening. Fingers crossed that the dates I have scheduled keep missing the rain that has been coming back a little. 

After the two weddings, and a few other extra commitments recently, I felt that I had a number of ducks lined up, and I just needed to take care of them one at a time. I was glad to have a more spacious weekend this time around (I had a couple of tasks to try to get ahead on, and ended up not getting to them at all, prefering to be outside, and then resting).

Probably every year at this time I make reference to it being the time of year I paid my first visit to San Francisco – as it happens even the days and dates line up this time. I don’t actually remember how I spent Monday 15th November 1999, but I was certainly enjoying myself in the city. 

At the same time I am still a little taken aback that we are closing in on the end of the year; I don’t have any plans for Thanksgiving, beyond most likely taking an early morning ride on the Thursday, but it is starting to look possible that I will be able to visit Tassajara at New Year, which will be tremendous if it does happen. There will be photos of that, for sure.

Thursday evening at Jack London Square
Another radiant sunset
A Friday lunchtime ride through the park to Ocean Beach – the newly green grass was luminous.
A favourite view, from Ina Coolbrith park during the roam.
Another beloved spot down the hill.
Sunrise on my Sunday ride
It was misty down at Crystal Springs.

Huineng

 When alive, one keeps sitting without lying down:
 When dead, one lies down without sitting up.
一 In both cases, a set of stinking bones!
What has it to do with the great lesson of life?

Damei

‘When Mazu heard that Damei lived on the mountain, he sent a monk to call upon him and ask the question, “When you saw Master Mazu, what did he say that caused you to come and live on this mountain?”
Damei said, “Master Mazu said to me, ‘Mind is Buddha.’ Then I came here to live.”
The monk said, “These days Master Ma’s teaching has changed.”
Damei said. “What is it?”
The monk said, “Now he says, ‘No mind. No Buddha.'”
Damei said, “That old fellow just goes on and on, confusing people. Let him go ahead and say, ‘No mind. No Buddha.’ As for me, I still say ‘Mind is Buddha.’
The monk returned and reported this to Master Mazu.
Mazu said, “The plum is ripe.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

This is another repost, but I think my commentary on it may be a little different. While there may be many teachers – from Buddha himself onwards – telling students not to stick to one particular teaching, Master Mazu recognises that Damei has fully integrated what he told him and is living from that place; Damei knows ‘No mind. No Buddha’ just as fully.

Karen Shoji Robbie

‘I learned this koan off by heart. Allowing it to seep into my skin and bones. Repeating the word ordinary like a mantra again and again. Asking the question, ‘What is it?’ again and again. Stopping and starting and not knowing what to do. The whole thing not doing anything. Not knowing anything but trusting that I didn’t know. Then beginning to experience ordinary. Everything ordinary. I kept going. And this ordinary got bigger and more spacious… Also at some point a fresh and unexpected word appeared. The word was love.’ (from the StoneWater zen site)

It was a little poignant to find this one in the archives, as it references the trip I did not get to make to help with Shohaku’s planned London retreat in March 2020. It is a commonplace, but nonetheless true, to say that it feels like a long time ago. And so this post hits slightly differently now – we are still stopping and starting with the pandemic, and not knowing what to do. I spoke about it in many of the talks I gave last year, and now it seems, as the current phrase in England has it, ‘baked in.’

Nick Paumgarten

‘It’s not inconceivable that the rest of the body (brain, hands, heart, lungs, digestive tract) is merely an elaborate and sometimes clumsy apparatus for the nourishment of the mitochondria—that it is the mitochondria, and not Homo sapiens, who rule and foul the earth. Our cardiovascular system, that fantastic and vulnerable machine, is essentially a delivery system for the oxygen they require. The mitochondrion is the creature and we are merely its husk, its fleshy chrysalis. A newborn’s first breath? That’s the mitochondria, calling the shots.

“That, anyway, is the mitocentric perspective,” Martin Picard said, on a recent afternoon in his office, in Washington Heights… His specialty is mitochondrial psychobiology. “We try to understand the connection between the mind and mitochondria,” he said. “We think about energy a lot.”…

In a mostly sincere attempt to convey how little we know about the workings of consciousness, he said, “We have yet to disprove that our brains aren’t merely antennas, that all of our ‘thoughts’ and ‘memories’ don’t just come from out there”—he pointed out the window—“and that we’re not just ‘streaming’ everything.” Glancing behind him at the river’s eddying current, I half expected to catch a glitch in the matrix.

“The main distinguishing characteristic between a cadaver and a living, thinking, feeling individual is the flow of energy through the body,” he said. “The cells are the same, but without the energy flow it’s just an inert blob.”

Mitochondria transform chemical energy into electrical energy, Picard explained. “Communication and energy go together,” he said. “The organs and cells can’t communicate without energy. Cells talk to each other. The mitochondria, which used to be bacteria, talk to the gut microbiome. They are like cousins. Cells choose to do one thing or another, based on the energy available. Energy for cells is like emotions for a human. It causes them to make decisions that may not seem rational.”’ (from the New Yorker)

This was one of those classic New Yorker articles that took a few unexpected swerves from its starting point. I always enjoy the rough edge between hard science, and what we may feel and intuit about ourselves, and this had many such interfaces. If you get a chance to read the whole article, I recommend it.