Acarya Gaylon Ferguson

‘Letting go of incessantly measuring and comparing ourselves to others leads to spontaneous acts of courage and compassion. It’s like learning a dance step well enough that we no longer need to keep looking down at our feet. Eventually we feel the music and the movement, and that’s enough to be perfectly in tune with our partner and right on the beat.’ (My note with this quote is that it came from Tricycle Magazine, though I have been unable to confirm that.)

Issho Fujita

‘In many cases, zazen instruction consists of a series of “how to’s” – how to cross legs, how to place the hands, how to drop the line of sight, how to keep the back straight, how to pull in one’s chin, how to settle one’s tongue, how to breathe, how to control one’s mind, and so on. With these “how to’s,” practitioners make a lot of effort to control all the body parts, the breath, and the state of mind by faithfully following those instructions one by one. That kind of effort is usually understood as “regulating body, breath and mind.” In this approach to zazen the shallow layer of the mind, the “conscious I” (the ego-consciousness, which is the product of thought), is trying to unilaterally give orders and force the rest of the mind and body to devotedly obey. It is as if it is telling them, “Because our instructor said so, you should do what I tell you without complaints or questions! That is zazen!” 

This approach might work to some extent in the beginning, but eventually there will be many problems – “I can’t sit still because of so much pain in my legs!,” “I can’t do anything about idle thoughts. My mind is out of control,” “I am not good at zazen…” It is no wonder because “I,” which is only a product of thought, is trying to control everything else without getting any agreement, consent, or cooperation from the layer of the mind and body which is much deeper, wider, and wiser than “I.” It is quite natural that the practitioner will experience many kinds of resistance, rebellion, disagreement, and complaint one after another in the form of sleepiness, chaotic thoughts, uncomfortable sensations and so on. If one tries to win this battle by willpower, one is bound to fail. The practitioner will just end up hurting the body and mind by doing too many unnatural things. 

Zen master Dogen calls this type of action go-i (forcible action). It means to do something intentionally, by force, aiming at certain goal. He sets un-i against go-i. Un-i is spontaneous action that emerges naturally in response to the situation beyond judgment and discretion. There is a common misunderstanding that zazen is done as accumulation of go-i. But Dogen says that zazen should be done by “letting go of both your body and mind, forgetting them both, and throwing yourself into the house of Buddha, with all being done by Buddha” (Shobogenzo Shoji). This means that zazen should be practiced as un-i. I show a photo of an infant’s sitting when giving zazen instruction because I hope it will prevent practitioners from practicing zazen as go-i. There is a sentence in the Bible (Matthew 18-3): ”Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Borrowing this famous phrase, I would like to say, “Unless you turn and sit like children, you will never enter the gate of zazen.”’ (Polishing A Tile)

Other perspectives on zazen after the last couple of days.

Shohaku Okumura

‘When we are sitting, we do not follow our thoughts, nor do we stop them.  We just let them come and go freely.  We cannot call it thinking because the thoughts are not grasped.  If we simply peruse our thoughts, it is just thinking; it is not zazen.  We cannot call zazen not-thinking either, because thoughts are coming and going like clouds floating in the sky. When we are sitting, our brain does not stop functioning, just as our stomach is always digesting.  Sometimes our minds are busy; sometimes our minds are calm.  Just sitting, without being concerned with the conditions of our mind, is the most important point in zazen.  When we sit in this way, we are one with Reality, which is beyond thinking.  To say it another way, Reality manifests itself through our body and mind.’ (notes on Fukanzazengi)

When I was trying to find where I had mentioned “think of not thinking” before, for yesterday’s post, I came across this one, which also helps.

Suzuki Roshi

Student: Roshi, you said not to stop thinking, but to be free from thinking, and I wonder if you could explain what it means to be free from thinking?

Suzuki Roshi: What I meant was don’t be bound by your thinking. When you reach a conclusion by thinking, you will have some definite idea. Actually, that is why you think: to have a definite answer. But that is not possible.

Student: So what should you do?

Suzuki Roshi: You can think, and thinking will help you, of course. But you should know, at the same time, that that answer will not be definite. So you think, but you are free from thinking. That is what I meant: to have what we call a double edged blade. So double-edge think: don’t think and think. It works two ways. This is the double nature, the double construction of Buddhist philosophy: thinking construction and non thinking construction. (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

I think this exchange illuminates Dogen’s “think of not thinking” from the Fukanzazengi – which he borrowed from Yakusan.

Menzan Zuiho

‘Tathagata is not manifested directly in these sutras, since they are provisional teachings. Although the Buddha expressed his true mind in some Mahayana sutras, in many cases, the true teachings are no longer true because the commentators of those sutras and commentaries interpreted them with their ordinary discriminating minds and intellectual understanding. That is why it is said in the Zo-ho-ketsugi-kyo that interpretation through words stands against the buddhas in the past, present, and future. Also, in the Ryo-ga-kyo it is said that the Buddha did not speak even one word during the forty-nine years he taught. From this, it should be clear that the true enlightenment of the Tathagata can never be grasped by words or by discrimination, nor by the illusory mind of ordinary human beings.’ (Jijuyu-Zanmai )

So are we all wasting our time, then? What do you think? Is enlightenment bound by what we think of it?


‘In the study hall, do not keep things such as bows and arrows, spears and clubs, swords, or helmets and armor. Generally do not keep any military equipment. If someone stores short swords and the like, they must be expelled from the temple right away. Implements that violate prohibitions should never be brought into the study hall.’ (Eihei Shingi)

Dogen’s Pure Standards contains quite a few giggle lines like this. It’s a salutary reminder that it’s not always impossible to get a handle on Dogen. All of which is to plug an upcoming study group I will be participating in as part of Treasure the Road, along with Catherine and Zachary. Writing this before I leave for Tassajara, we are scheduled to launch on Monday May 9th, at 4:30 west coast time. Bows and arrows are unlikely to make an appearance.


A white cloud hangs over the summit 
Of a green mountain beyond the lake. 
Whoever looks and admires the scene, 
Need not waste a word. 

Shodo Harada

‘This true self is not some supernatural state of mind. From the origin, there is only one mu. When we see this clearly and directly, we are able to share it with all beings, so that they can have this same realization. But we don’t do that by bragging about having realized something special. When we realize this mu, we see that we are all alike. When we throw that small self away, how could we look down on someone else? All prejudice originates in ideas that have no relevance in this true place of holding on to nothing.’ (Not One Single Thing)

Setting Off

The wind changed on Monday. On Sunday afternoon we had roamed in clear skies cooled off by the westerly breezes. We stayed at the top of Corona Heights long enough to enjoy the view, and to discuss the huge crowd we could see in Dolores Park for the resurrected Hunky Jesus contest, but we sat lower down in the shelter of the rocks.

The Monday sit was pleasantly mild, but the change also brought more rain, which is starting to feel a little unseasonal. I was lucky with the special outdoor sit for Within ahead of Earth Day, as Wednesday lunchtime was clear and sunny. Afterwards I rode down to the outer Sunset to catch up with my old room-mate, her girlfriend and the beloved dog. Riding back, a weather front was on its way.

It was supposed to rain all Thursday, but I didn’t get wet on my commute as I had feared. The afternoon ferry passed through the briefest of showers, which then threw up a rainbow over the Bay Bridge. 

Writing this on Thursday evening, I have just packed my bags for Tassajara, rather fuller than they might have been as I am taking clothes down to leave at the goodwill there for people who will use them more than I will. I have no idea how the weather is going to be over the next couple of weeks: I have had wet springs down there, including my first April, twenty years ago now, when I remember saying indignantly that this was not what I had signed up for. It might equally reach ninety degrees. 

In any case, I have been expecting something to happen that will prevent me from making it again, and until I set foot in the valley, I will still expect that, but all being well, I will report back in a couple of weeks.

Sitting at Metson Lake, Wednesday lunchtime.
Looking one was on Wednesday afternoon.
Looking the other way.
Thursday morning skies.
Thursday afternoon.
There is a rainbow low over the middle of the towers, but the phone didn’t do a great job picking it up.

The Meghiya Sutra

‘“Five things induce release of heart and lasting peace,” the Buddha told him. “First, a lovely intimacy with good friends. Second, virtuous conduct. Third, frequent conversation that inspires and encourages practice. Fourth, diligence, energy, and enthusiasm for the good. And fifth, insight into impermanence.”’

This was a passage I found in something from Norman Fischer, and I have had it at hand in all my recent conversations and thinking about ease.