Nyogen Senzaki

‘This place belongs neither to Rinzai nor Soto, and this monk never claimed to be a teacher. When you come and meditate sincerely, I will join you in the Zen-do. When you ask a question on Zen, I will answer with my Zen. The most important thing is for you to become Zen and Zen to become you. I am nobody from the beginning, but I may encourage your meditation or solve your doubts. Do not hasten to work one koan after another as you might solve algebra problems, nor keep on a drowsy meditation without stimulation of personal guidance.’ (Commentary on the Iron Flute, Case 11)


Without tracks, 
No news.
The white clouds are rootless - 
What colour is the pure breeze?
Spreading the canopy of the sky, mindless,
Holding the carriage of the earth, powerful;
Illumining the profound source of a thousand ages, 
Making patterns for ten thousand forms.
Meetings for enlightenment in the atoms of all lands - in each place is Samantabhadra:
The door of the tower opens - everywhere is Maitreya.

Zoketsu Norman Fischer

‘I wish you could write all this down, take it home and do it, and then you’d say, “What do you know? I am no longer troubled by powerful emotions. This is great! ” Unfortunately, that will not be the case. You can listen to all this and try to put it in practice and you will still suffer from being overcome by powerful emotions for quite a long time, so then you have to have the practice of patience and forbearance. Train yourself just to be able to be there. And recognize that there are all these stories of spiritual transformation, blah, blah, blah, and this is great, I believe in it, but when it really comes down to it, there are no quick fixes, and when the conditions are ripe for anger and fear, anger and fear will be there. I don’t care how many brilliant, enlightenment experiences you had, if strong enough conditions are there, you will feel them. So we all need a way of coping with that, and forbear with them. In fact, our brilliant spiritual practice can itself can be an excuse for a failure to really skillfully deal with these emotions and to forbear with them.’ (from the Everyday Zen website)


‘In general, when you are a beginner you cannot fathom the buddha way. Your assumptions do not hit the mark. The fact that you cannot fathom the buddha way as a beginner does not mean that you lack ultimate understanding, but it does mean that you do not recognize the deepest point. 

Endeavor wholeheartedly to follow the path of earlier sages. You may have to climb mountains and cross oceans when you look for a teacher to inquire about the way. Look for a teacher and search for understanding with all-encompassing effort, as if you were coming down from heaven or emerging from the ground. When you encounter a true teacher, you invoke sentient beings as well as insentient beings. You hear with the body, you hear with the mind. 

To hear with the ear is an everyday matter, but to hear with the eye is not always so. When you see buddha, you see self-buddha, other- buddha, a large buddha, a small buddha. Do not be frightened by a large buddha. Do not be put off by a small buddha. Just see large and small buddhas as valley sounds and mountain colors, as a broad, long tongue, and as eighty-four thousand verses. This is liberation, this is outstanding seeing.’ (Shobogenzo Keisei Sanshoku)

Today’s post, which according to WordPress’ unerring counter, is number 2300 on this blog, comes to you courtesy of opening the Shobogenzo at a random page. There are many worse ways to learn, few better ways to come to outstanding seeing.

Shodo Harada

‘”Nonthought” doesn’t mean turning our backs on the world and greedily seeking our own quiet, thought-free space. To be empty of extraneous thinking means to see, hear, smell, and taste what is present, but not to think further about it. When we see things without getting caught on them, our essence can flow freely. We feel a parental responsibility for everything that exists, without being pulled around by our attachments. We must live this, not just know it conceptually.’ (Not One Single Thing)

I was asked recently about Dogen’s famous (and borrowed) phrase, ‘Think of not thinking.’ Once I thought I had a good answer to it, but I forgot it. This seems as good as anything.

Nishiari Bokusan

‘Every one of you is eager to be enlightened. How then do you get enlightened? Where do you arrive after enlightenment? You may say you don’t want delusion. But after all, what are you deluded about? Or, where do you get settled if you are deluded about delusion? Or what gets in the way if you are deluded?
Think well. Upon hearing “When all dharmas are Buddha dharma,” what are you deluded about? What are you enlightened with? Where do you go in delusion? There is no place to go. Where do you go with enlightenment? There is no place to go. So we know that there is nothing to boast about, even if you are enlightened. There is nothing to have a headache about, even if you are deluded.’ (Dogen’s Genjo Koan – Three Commentaries)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Some people, you know, may be envious of bird or cats or dogs who enjoy the warm winter sunshine [laughing] near hot spring. But “return to the nature” in its true sense does not mean to be like animal or bird. If you climb up on the top of the mountain, or, you know, if you come from Jamesburg, perhaps the place you like best will be when you see some of Tassajara mountain. If it is April it is– they are covered with white snow.

If you want to go back to the nature, you should go back to the rocks on the top of the mountain [laughs]. That is much better than to be a bird, or cat, or even a lion. Be a rock. And sit forever, without being moved by rain, or snow, or storm. But weathered by rain and snow, rocks will tell us many stories. You may say that is just a rock. But buddha-nature, in its true sense, reveal itself on weathered ancient rocks on the top of the mountain.

The reason why we wanted to practice zazen, putting strength in our tanden, is to realize what is true practice and what is not.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

I have been trying to work my way through the archive more or less chronologically, but I skipped ahead to December 1967 to be able to listen to this talk with my dharma sister Kim. It is from the first day of the sesshin held at the end of the second practice period at Tassajara (I am trying to resist getting completely immersed in the talks from the first sesshin held in August 1967, as almost all the audio for that one is newly rediscovered). I was interested in this talk as he is very explicit about the hara, or tanden, which is not at all common (using the search form from David Chadwick’s site, there are only three mentions of it – two from this sesshin, and one from a talk at Tassajara two months later), and because he presents sections from Dogen’s Fukanzazengi.

When we were listening to it though, this portion from right at the end of the talk jumped out at me in a way that it hadn’t when I was just reading the transcript. His voice has a kind of still power that makes it the climax of what he is trying to convey. Listen to it if you have the time.

I thought this photo was a good representation of Tassajara mountains covered in snow.

Amanda Gorman

‘I’m a firm believer that often terror is trying to tell us of a force far greater than despair. In this way, I look at fear not as cowardice, but as a call forward, a summons to fight for what we hold dear. And now more than ever, we have every right to be affected, afflicted, affronted. If you’re alive, you’re afraid. If you’re not afraid, then you’re not paying attention. The only thing we have to fear is having no fear itself — having no feeling on behalf of whom and what we’ve lost, whom and what we love…

And yes, I still am terrified every day. Yet fear can be love trying its best in the dark. So do not fear your fear. Own it. Free it. This isn’t a liberation that I or anyone can give you — it’s a power you must look for, learn, love, lead and locate for yourself.’ (from the New York Times)

Thich Nhat Hanh

My youth an unripe plum.
Your teeth have left their marks on it.
The tooth marks still vibrate.
I remember always,
remember always.

Since I learned how to love you,
the door of my soul.has been left wide open
to the winds of the four directions.
Reality calls for change.
The fruit of awareness is already ripe,
and the door can never be closed again.

Fire consumes this century,
and mountains and forests bear its mark.
The wind howls across my ears,
while the whole sky shakes violently in the snowstorm.

Winter’s wounds lie still,
Missing the frozen blade,
Restless, tossing and turning
in agony all night.

A Ferry Ride In The Fog

On Friday morning, I was listening to Suzuki Roshi’s Calmness talk, ahead of this morning’s third class in the series. Even though I have listened to it quite a few times already, once again, I heard it fresh (and kind of wished that I could re-write some of the accompanying article I posted for that talk).

‘When you sit you do not feel anything; you just sit. You are in the complete calmness of your mind. But in everyday life, you will find you will be encouraged by the calmness of the zazen — sitting. So actually the value of — you will find the value of Zen in everyday life, rather then when you sit.’

I used this notion for a meditation session I had during the morning. It’s something I talk about often, that meditation can be like having training wheels on a bike, learning to deal, in a safe space, with things that are usually not consequential. During the session, I could hear some music filtering up from my downstairs neighbour, a typical minor irritant, where we can pay close attention to how we respond to the situation in the moment, mentally, physically, or emotionally. And then we go out in the world and try to handle things with the same sense of equanimity and equilibrium; it takes a while to remember that we can do this, but as we continue our practice, we do start to embody that kind of response a little more regularly and consistently.

In my radio days, once you got over the initial adrenaline-fuelled thrill of doing live transmissions, they could often be quite hum-drum. I always say that the job was a good preparation for practice: it was always in the moment; you had to keep paying attention; and once it was done, it was done – there was no taking work home afterwards. When something went wrong, though, that’s when your training came into play, and your ability to focus. I used to tell people I was training, ‘Try to just make one mistake.’ I would see people (including myself), make a slip of some kind, like playing the wrong tape, and then compound it by being flustered. I would try to move on from the first mistake, and get things back to normal as soon as I could.

I have always presumed that flying a plane was rather similar, though as we would say in radio after some catastrophe in the studio, ‘well, no-one died.’ Most of the time, the pilots can maintain a relaxed awareness, and then, when things go awry, they have to call on all their training.

I got an object lesson similar this on Thursday morning. After enjoying a number of spectacular sunsets and gorgeous skyscapes on recent journeys, this time the fog was dense. The ferry was, unusually, running late. Once we were underway I could really see why. Passing under the Bay Bridge, it was barely visible. We made confident progress across the bay, even though there are once again a large number of huge container ships moored here and there. Once we approached the entrance to the Seaplane Lagoon in Alameda though, the boat slowed to crawl. There are several seawalls, with an entry gap that is not huge – and presumably a fairly narrow deep-water channel. In clear day, the approach must be relatively simple for an experienced captain, but when we couldn’t see it even from a few yards away, I appreciated how professional the skipper was being. I hope they were feeling equanimous too.

Naturally I took plenty of photographs to try to capture the mood. We are about to go under the bridge, with barely one footing to be seen.
The seawall starts to become visible.
Approaching the terminal.