The long Memorial Day weekend was quite the mixed bag in terms of weather. I had a notion to try to get out on my bike every morning from Friday onwards, but Friday was so grey I did not feel inspired to go, and spent the day reading and studying instead. On Saturday it was still grey, with a typically damp fog along the west side of city and at Ocean Beach. We had one of those half-and-half afternoons which felt promising enough that I went downtown with my camera, and walked home, catching the angle of the sun on things, as I used to do on my Saturday afternoon camera walks when I lived at Zen Center.

I was quite surprised that Sunday dawned totally clear, and I enjoyed my ride up San Bruno mountain, before I dragged more than a dozen roamers up the south side of Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks on a pleasant afternoon. Monday was also clear, and I had a sunnier time down along Great Highway before climbing over and round to the bay side.

After my pre-Tassajara stretch goal of getting up Mount Diablo, I looked at my calendar for the summer, and realised that between some consecutive weekends away, and the planned trip to the East Coast and the UK, I wouldn’t have a solid block of time to get my fitness back to that level again – it being one of the sadly inevitable facts of aging that it takes quite a while to regain form once you take a couple of weeks off. I made a little pivot more to maintenance rides, and have, dispritingly grey days notwithstanding, kind of gone back to the riding I was doing at the beginning of the pandemic: one serious ride a week, one that just felt like a good stretch of the legs (going up Twin Peaks, for example) and one which was more of an outing, where I felt fine dawdling and taking photographs. 

A couple of weeks off the bikes certainly helped renew my enthusiasm for some regular routes, and there is something about the freshness of a summer morning before the sun is up, with perhaps the exhilaration of seeing a coyote close byin Golden Gate Park, having a pair of herons flying overhead, or hearing the parrots in the palm trees on Dolores St as added bonuses.

Perhaps the main drawback of the rides that I did this past weekend is that, while I could feel the tiredness in my legs, even with the roam, I did not wear myself out in the way that I have done for decades – one of the reasons endurance sports appealed to me back in high school, to burn off the stagnant energy that saps my mood. 

I had an early morning leg-stretcher on Wednesday that took in Stow Lake.
A damp Saturday morning along the Great Highway.
Clarity on Sunday morning from the top of San Bruno Mountain.
Surfers are also early birds – Monday morning
Looking across the former Buri-Buri ranch to the south side of San Bruno mountain on Monday.

Katagiri Roshi

‘When we live in the vow we constantly live in our lives, seeking our own true nature, the real treasure of our own house. At that time you find your life worth living. Maybe you say I find life worth living by running into Zen Buddhism. If you believe in that way, consider again. Are you sure? Maybe there is something – some object – which you expect, consciously or unconsciously, in your mind, by your intellectual sense. After you start to practice zazen you are very happy for a while. You experience wonderful things you have not experienced before. “How wonderful zazen is.” But the more you practice zazen, the more you realize there is nothing to get, nothing to improve … neither character nor personality. Then you will be discouraged. In order to turn your practice into the power of your life is not so easy. It takes time … a long time.’ (from Wind Bell)


Why, it’s but the motion of eyes and brows!
And here I’ve been seeking it far and wide.
Awakened at last, I find the moon
Above the pines, the river surging high.

Kaira Jewel Lingo

‘When I was practicing as a nun in the Plum Village community, a… question arose while I was doing the meditation exercise “Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment; breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment.” Suddenly I found myself stuck, genuinely wondering: with all the violence, hatred, inequality, and preventable tragedies happening in this present moment—all over the world—how can we truly affirm it as “a wonderful moment”? I had been practicing this meditation for years, but this was a moment of truth, of feeling truly lost.

I sat in the question of it and began to see how in this present moment, along with all the suffering and pain, there are also so many beings supporting others. There are hearts of compassion opening to relieve suffering, to care for others, to teach, to show a different way. There are people who are courageous and who stand up for what they believe is right, protecting our oceans, cleaning rivers and beaches, advocating for those who are oppressed. There are those in every corner of the planet who are quietly, compassionately, doing what needs to be done.

I was able to touch the knowledge that, yes, this present moment is also a wonderful moment. I saw that suffering doesn’t have to disappear in order for beauty to be there, that life is about all of these things at once. It was a moment of cultivating equanimity, this ability to hold everything. There is great terror and pain—and there is great love and great wisdom. They’re all here, coexisting in this moment.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Student: Docho Roshi, let me see who I am. [Pause] To die each moment to be reborn is the great freedom of the dharma. I’m like a small fish, I swim in and out of big death. 

SR: [Softly] Yeah, that’s right.

I am grateful that you are making your best effort in accepting this dharma. Of course it is not easy, but dharma cannot be so easy. Dharma is the thing to which everyone of us have been striving for, and will strive for, to know what it is, to accept as their. So it is not only you, but all the patricarch and sages have been striving for it, and you are one of them. And you should be pitiful for the people who do not strive for it, who haven’t good chance to realize the necessity of striving for it. To realize the necessity of striving for it is the point to which we are making our best effort. There’s no other point to strive for. Since you have realized the necessity of striving for it, you are already one of the patriarachs and you gained that state. Don’t think Buddha and patriarchs were quite free from birth and death. They are still striving for it in the name of various sentient beings. It is most valuable thing that you realized the necessity of striving for it. The suffering you have is the every — should be everybody’s suffering, but perhaps most of them will not realize it, but it should be so. And it was and it will be the true with the future Buddha and past Buddha.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

In what spare time I have – and now I do feel like I have caught up with everything and have some time to spare – I have still been transcribing lectures from the Suzuki Roshi archive. This exchange came from an undated shosan ceremony at the end of a summer sesshin, and the best guess (for various reasons) is that it comes from 1968. I originally offered this tape to someone who volunteered to help, knowing that it was an hour and a half long and would take a while, but six months later, even after following up, I heard nothing back, so, since I have to write an article about it soon for the series, I contacted a couple of regulars in the Suzuki Roshi field and we took roughly thirty minutes each.

This was the last exchange that I transcribed earlier this week, and I was totally struck by the intensity of how he spoke, almost to the extent of having my hair stand on end. It was the most remarkable moment for me since I played the tape that contained the Beginner’s Mind talk, about two and a half years ago. I am inclined to think, especially having read some of the material that David Chadwick has, that it was Trudy Dixon, already sick with cancer, who asked the question. In any case, I thought it worth uploading the audio, if you have time to listen to the exchange:

National Karma

The Sandy Hook shootings took place a couple of weeks before my shuso ceremony at Tassajara, and I expected that someone might ask me a question about it. I had my usual strident points of view lined up (“The US is an old testament nation, not a Christian nation,” and so on). In the end, the question that came caught me off-guard: what would I say to a parent who had lost a child in the shooting? My reply was something along the lines of “I can’t even begin to imagine how much you must be suffering right now,” and it marked a heart-opening shift from some of the more easily batted questions up until then.

Wednesday is a day of different teaching sessions for me. In my Within class, I decided to broach the subject of the latest massacre, coming as it did, so close on the heels of the last – even as I am generally reluctant to speak of tragic events in the news. There seem to be two salient points to remember. One is that America has always been like this, from the earliest days of the fragile settlements in New England, and through the decades of slavery and its aftermath, which is still fully present: vindictive, ready to kill in order to defend, but also in order to expand; ready to kill from a sense of separation, isolation, domination and othering.

Additionally, the rugged individualism that seeps through the culture down the centuries plays out as lethally toxic masculinity these days, with angry young white men (who are the shooters, almost without exception) who find no other way to express their alienation than through gun violence.

And this is not separate from all the other assaults on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which is supposed to be the raison d’être of the US, led by venal politicians who are seduced by money to obstruct policies that the majority of people (even in this case the majority of gun owners) would like to see in place. 

As I and others in the class who had grown up in other cultures observed, this national karma is hard to understand from the outside, in the same way that the lack of healthcare and attacks on abortion rights are hard to understand from a European perspective.

Each country has its own blindspots, and the UK is certainly struggling with its own karma right now, but those blindspots in the US tend to the punitive and deadly. Anger and frustration are what we are left with. 

“In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.”

Corey Ichigen Hess

‘How could I penetrate the mysteries of movement, connection, transparency? The books never described it the way it felt. I had to feel it for myself in my own way.  Can I blend, merge into the air around me, the garden, the sound of the cicada?  Can I remove the barrier between self and other, expand, meld, connect?  Rock and dirt and pine trees around me. Roof tile, the smell of old tatami leaning on the wall. What is it to move through space? Where is my breath? Is there a more subtle breath always there, always opening me up? Is there a mystery there and is that great mystery healing? Is there a yes always there? How can I stay in sync, stay in this internal momentum, not fall out of this harmony, this wave pummeling me, guiding me?  How can I feel the flower in the garden, become it, allow my body to be filled by the environment?  How can I let go of the gravity of thoughts, exist as receptivity? Love? Grace? And the miraculous joy which erupts out of this naked, honest longing and merging.’ (from the Zen Embodiment blog)

And I feel that this is exactly in line with what Zenju is pointing to.

May Days

We do finally seem to have lumbered on to the left shoulder of summer, and none too soon, though the all-prevading nature of wind means it has not been as warm in the city as it might be – I had more of a taste of summer heat when I took the train down the peninsula on Saturday afternoon for a back garden birthday party.

After my sign-off tempting fate last Tuesday, I was a little worried to wake up with a slightly sore throat the next day. I had not slept especially well for the previous two nights, and had talked perhaps more than usual, not least at my student group. I welcomed three to my place for that, and a fourth was joining on Zoom from Singapore, which was amazing, as he sounded as clear as he ever does from Oakland.

A friend, who had had a bad case of COVID over the last couple of weeks, was planning to go and get a PCR test locally that day, so I went along. Thankfully I didn’t feel any worse as the day wore on, and the test came back negative, so I was able to volunteer as planned at Bike To Wherever Day with the Bicycle Coalition, and enjoy a few hours engaging with riders and fellow volunteers. As I wrote on Patreon recently, with Zen Center still closed for public events, I have more of a community with people on bikes these days – not least a couple of new riding regulars on the ferry.

It feels like it has taken a full two weeks to catch up from the two weeks away at Tassajara, and I made sure I kept a chunk of the weekend free, not least because it was the last day of the Premier League season, which I tried to watch as much as possible without spoilers. 

On Monday I had time and space to catch up with writing and preparing for a couple of teaching events this week, as well as going to sit as usual, where it really did feel warm, before diving into the continual nourishment of the Dogen study group. Maybe by Friday I will feel that I have caught up.

I saw this remarkable cloud as I was heading to the birthday party on Saturday.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘When I would walk about under the influence of the atmosphere of stillness and the teachings, I sensed an ancient time that could have been on any continent on the planet, silently witnessing life through connections with people and the land. There was a memory in my bones of something old. I saw myself sharing those teachings. 

When I first entered the zendo at Tassajara Zen Center in the Los Padres Forest, I said to myself, “I’ve been here before.” It wasn’t the center as much as it was the feeling of being next to the mountains and spending time under the stars at night. Coming to chant and bow, I knew this life, this living close to the earth.’ (The Shamanic Bones of Zen)

I bought a copy of this when I was at Tassajara, since several people had recommended it to me, and although I have not got very far into it yet, I feel that Zenju is writing about something that speaks to me.

Keizan Jokin

This field I’ve plowed and sown
has been bought and sold
but it’s always new:
look at the young sprouts.

I wander into the Buddha Hall
tiller and hoe in hand.