Shodo Harada

‘Kanzan Egen, the founder of Myoshin-ji, was a disciple of Daito Kokushi. At the end of his formal training, Egen disappeared from his teacher’s monastery. Settling in a country village, he continued his training by assisting anyone who asked for help. No matter what he was asked to do, he agreed cheerfully. Eventually Daito Kokushi became ill, and his disciples traveled to Egen’s village to ask him to return to the monastery to take care of his teacher. The villagers were amazed to learn who Egen was and were chagrined that they had used him as a servant. If they had know who he was, they said, they could have had a teaching from him, and they asked him for a teaching before he left. He said that would be easy. He called to the old man and woman to whom he’d been closest, who had always taken care of him. They thought they were going to receive a great teaching and came right over. He sat them down, and then he banged their heads together. They started screeching in pain. He said, “You thought you were going to get some great teaching, bot to get hit on the head! But who taught you to feel pain? Who told you to exclaim like that? Nobody! That, coming from nowhere, with no expectation, no thought about how to do it – that is your true nature! When you felt pain, you exclaimed spontaneously, with no hesitation. You didn’t learn that from your parents or in books.”‘ (Not One Single Thing)

This was a new story on me. Perhaps it happened; it’s not like the old teachers needed an excuse to hit people in those days. We don’t get to do that so much any more, so how can we show people how to get out of their usual conceptual way of seeing things?

Ed Brown

A dull knife will not cut, 
Nor a cracked bowl hold water. 
Putting your mind and body in order, 
How useful everything becomes. 

Looking for the knife 
Which is not there
How hard to find. 

Washing rice, kneading bread, 
Chopping carrots, peeling oranges, 
Slicing pickles, saving crumbs, 
No time for living, no time to die. 

What Is It Good For?

I don’t know if I have anything insightful to say about the war. The last few days have felt like a tightening, as the sense of gloom and inevitability increases. I remember, in 1991, coming back from an exhilarating evening at a London jazz club to learn about the invasion of Kuwait, and how, in 2003, Linda Cutts skillfully held space for discussion as we learned about the beginning of the second Gulf War in the middle of a practice period at Tassajara. A new practitioner at Green Gulch expressed a sense of guilt and privilege to be sitting zazen while a war breaks out; my response was to ask if they would be doing anything more about the war if they weren’t at the temple.

Recently I read an interesting New Yorker article about Kim Stanley Robinson. I haven’t read science fiction since I was a kid, but I appreciated this view of the world and the thought experiments that we can undertake. That night I dreamt about a world where men were no longer allowed to vote, because of how badly they had messed up the world since time immemorial, and the feeling of the dream, of the society that was being created, was so optimistic and happy.

I woke up wondering how much of the state of the world, with its constant thirst for acquisition and aggression, can be blamed on testosterone. While it was possible, in the build-up, to sympathise with some of the analyses about how Russia felt about the expansion of NATO, this escalation, this killing and destruction, really does not make any sense. And, it is how the world is, and has been for so long. And will continue, while we fail to co-operate on what is truly needed to mitigate the inevitable devastation of climate change. 

Sekkei Harada

‘Truth is your condition right now. Regardless of what that condition may be, it is the truth. Because you aren’t aware that this is the truth you look elsewhere. ‘ (Talks on Yoka Daishi’s “Song of Realization”)


‘Going to the seashore to count grains of sand vainly wastes one’s strength. Polishing a tile to make a mirror is a meaningless use of effort. Don’t you see that the clouds above the tall mountains naturally wind and unwind around each other, so how could they be intimate or estranged? The water of a deep river channel follows along the straight stretches and curves without preferring this way or that. The daily activity of living beings is like clouds and water. Clouds and water are like this, but people are not. If they could be like this, how could they ever transmigrate in the triple world?’ (Extensive Record, 281)

Doubling up

Towards the end of last year, I had the opportunity to officiate weddings on consecutive days, which felt pretty awesome, especially as they were both along the water’s edge. On Tuesday I got to top that, even, with two weddings on the same day, thanks to the auspicious date (2/2/22 if you weren’t paying attention). The first couple had reached out a few months ago, and had a space booked at City Hall, where I have performed a couple of ceremonies; the other couple contacted me less than two weeks ago, and they wanted the ceremony to begin at 2:00, just to complete the numbers, down at the Palace of Fine Arts (where I have also had a couple of weddings, including my first ever more than ten years ago).

The forecast had been a bit iffy with a chance of showers – the heatwave has long since blown away, though last week was sunny – but in the end, the weather was bright and breezy. The breeze, mind you, was pretty stiff from the north, so it felt chilly. The two grooms showed up at City Hall in matching tuxes and shiny shoes, looking very dapper, and we had a lovely time up on the fourth floor. The bride of the afternoon couple kept her fuzzy coat on until the last minute and shivered through the outdoor ceremony, though her groom produced a hot water bottle for her as soon as we were done, which bodes well for the relationship, I think. I was glad for all my layers of robes for once. It really was heartwarming to be able to be present for, and participate in, such happy times.

A little less consequentially, I also doubled up on roams last week, with an extra offering on Friday to add to the previously scheduled one on Sunday. They were both in Golden Gate Park, and on a warm Wednesday morning last week I rode over there to remind myself of some of the lesser-travelled paths. It took a bit of untangling to remember what was going to go with which roam, though they took in different segments of the park. The first was from Stow Lake west, taking in the quieter Elk Glen and Metson lakes, the polo field and the anglers’ casting ponds, before returning via Spreckels Lake and the buffalo enclosure. The second was the chance to catch the magnolias in the botanical garden, which had bloomed early after all the warm dry weather we have been having, and then meandering by Stow Lake, the redwood grove, the new oak woodlands trail and the AIDS memorial grove.

As it happened, the smaller group on Friday skewed a little older, so we didn’t get as far west as I had intended, skipping the Chain of Lakes, and the Prayerbook Cross at the end. So I added the latter to the itinerary on Sunday, and managed to get everyone round that loop in good time, though I would have preferred a longer contemplative stop in the memorial grove. It was a little on the chilly side as well, with a foggy morning half-cleared by the northerly wind. In places the ground was thick with magnolia petals. You have to move fast to catch the moment.

I love the oak groves in the north-east corner of the park.
A magnolia in the park, though not in the Botanical Garden.
Not the first time I have seen a heron by Elk Glen lake.
Oaks in softer light on Sunday.
Bright morning outside City Hall on Tuesday, waiting for the grooms.
Another San Francisco marvel, albeit exposed to the wind, the Palace of Fine Arts.

Zoketsu Norman Fischer

‘Now, if you reflect on your sitting practice, just today, for instance, if you are sitting today, probably would agree that trying to control your mind does not work that well. Actually, when you decide that my mind is going to go this way, usually it goes the other way, and actually it’s not very skillful to try to control your mind. The more you try to control your mind, the more you are controlled. On the other hand, the more you let go and accept and allow, the more you are free. What is interesting about life is not about how often one is right, this is not the interesting thing about life, what’s interesting about life is that you grow. There is an endless possibility to learn about yourself and about life. And when you insist upon being right and insist upon being in control, you don’t learn much because you are not open to what else is happening. In your relationship, in your work, in dharma practice itself being open to the possibilities and always letting go, not trying to control is really the way. One learns not by thinking that one knows, but by recognizing that you don’t know. That’s when a new thought comes into your mind. Learning comes from not knowing, not from controlling, being willing to risk being wrong, being willing to be surprised. A mind that is willing and open is a mind that can learn.

And this is how we practice on your cushions, breathing into open space, and we’re all, although we might not feel this way, the truth is that we are all in a cooperative relationship, with all of the reality around us. In other words, it is not up to us to control things and bring about outcomes. We make effort, but we make effort in cooperation with other people and the world at large. When you know that you don’t feel the need to control and make everything go your way. It’s actually more interesting to find out what we happen. So one makes effort, sincere, strong effort with the feeling of openness, “What will happen?”’ (from the Everyday Zen website)

Suzuki Roshi

‘As I said this afternoon in my lecture, the second master of my temple in Japan was studying Zuigan’s addressing his own name for six years it was not enough. After he found out the truth of addressing himself is addressing to the Buddha nature, addressing to our Shakyamuni Buddha, the true practice started in my temple. Sometimes many students, sometimes quite few students, but that practice incessantly continues so far. But his practice will continue forever and pervade whole world, whole universe, because this is the truth how everything exists in each world and each world without any contradiction or disturbance exists at the same time in the same way. As I believe in this truth, I am here now in Tassajara, and practicing our way with you. This is not Japanese way or — American way, and Japanese way and American way. I don’t mind which is which. May we continue this practice without any misunderstanding forever with all sentient beings.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

I have started studying the talks from the first sesshin at Tassajara, in August 1967, as they will be the subjects of the next few articles. This passage comes from the shosan ceremony held at the end of the week of sitting – frustratingly the only audio which has not come to light now. Transcripts were made of all the talks though, and in these closing remarks, Suzuki Roshi offers a strong reminder of the bigger picture.

Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Sharon Salzberg

‘Clinging to our ideas of perfection isolates us from life and is a barrier to real love for ourselves. Perfection is a brittle state that generates a lot of anxiety, because achieving and maintaining unwavering standards—whether they’re internal or external—means we’re always under threat. We become focused on avoiding failure, and love for the self cannot be a refuge because it has become too conditional, too dependent on performance. As Oscar Wilde said in his play An Ideal Husband, “It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love.” And that means every last one of us.

The illusion that supports perfectionism is the notion that, with superior self-control, we can sustain a perfect life. But of course this is impossible. We may believe self-criticism will help make us “better,” or more lovable, or even liberate us from suffering. But this is a displaced—and unproductive—use of our energy and attention.’ (Real Love)