‘I don’t talk about Buddhism, and I don’t talk about Zen. There’s really no need to talk about this things. Since I can manage perfectly just by dealing with people’s own selves as they are right here today, there’s no need to talk about Buddhism or Zen either.’
Well yes, and… since he was undoubtedly using what he had learned in his training when he was dealing with people, giving a little credit wouldn’t go amiss, and it gives people at least a signpost for things they can look for to benefit themselves and others.
The trip continued with a sense of familiar places and scenes that nevertheless feel fresh because I haven’t been to them for several years. I left my mother’s on the Friday, and took the train to Manchester, passing through the beautiful Shropshire hills. In an unexpected twist, the sun came out as we arrived in Manchester. I had plenty of time to walk between the two stations, and stopped for a nice cafe lunch, though my favourite coffee place at Victoria station was not quite up to its previous standards.
After arriving at Rebecca’s, I took myself off on a walk up the steep hillside, for the fresh air and views, and then got ready for the evening presentation of Suzuki Roshi’s Beginner’s Mind talk, which was well attended. Most of the same dozen people sat for the day on Saturday, and I interspersed words and quotes on zazen through the day. It was mostly damp out, a good day to sit, and, in our usual way, go up for a pie and a pint afterwards. The pub has changed hands, and was also perhaps not up to its previous best, as well as being rather quiet for a Saturday night. After the sitting was over, it suddenly felt like I was coming to the end of the trip, as that had been the last big landmark, even though there were still a few more days to go.
In the morning I had time for a walk, and had the intention to climb Stoodley Pike, which I had seen from afar many times, but never gone up to. It was still damp, but very warm, and while I enjoyed following the trails, I ended up in the cloud line – completely deserted the whole way except for sheep and one mountain biker near the ridge – and there were no views except when the clouds parted to reveal the valley below.
By the time I got back, my shoes were soaked through from the wet grass on the footpaths, but I had time to shower and eat before setting off for the next leg, the walk to the station along the canal, the train to Leeds, the bus to the airport (the first one due was concelled, so there was a lengthy wait) and the flight to Belfast (where we sat on the tarmac for a while before taking off as there were issues with the passenger manifest).
Djinn and Richard met me at George Best airport, and drove me straight round to Garret and Esther’s for the planned dinner, arriving in the last minute of extra time of the Women’s Euro finals, which I would have loved to have sat down and watched all the way through. We had a lovely evening around the table, and I felt most welcomed back to a city I had not visited until a few years ago.
Monday was quite a lazy day, with lots of catching up and chatting, and a rainy evening, but Tuesday was full. We started by doing the morning schedule at Black Mountain, where I was doan so that some of the newer people could hear how it was supposed to be done (I think I managed not to make any mistakes). Later, Garret had managed to persuade his neighbour to loan me his expensive carbon bike, plus helmet and bike shoes, so that we could ride out of town together. This was my first ride in a month, and although my wrist has been healing day by day, I was worried about that as well as my legs.
We clocked up forty miles or so, over rolling terrain to Killyleagh with the castle, where we had a cafe stop before returning alongside Stranford Lough. It was a lovely warm day, the wind was less of a problem than feared, and the views were lovely. I was definitely grinding out the last few miles, but I know it would make my next few rides after I got back to San Francisco much easier.
Thankfully I wasn’t stiff the next day beyond my wrist feeling sore. I had a smooth experience flying from George Best to London City airport, and also crossing town on the Elizabeth Line. I spent the afternoon walking through the parks on a day that was warm, but not quite as intense as when I last did it. A final dinner with my host, offering advice about anxiety, and the next morning I was off to Heathrow.
I usually feel pretty relaxed about the flight back to San Francisco, and this was similar; as the day extended westward, I mainly watched shows onscreen, peering out of the window to see where we were, though clouds inhibited most of the spectacular views of Greenland and the frozen north. I was kindly picked up from the airport by a friend on a sunny afternoon, and pottered about for a few hours before sleeping, and waking up as early as I expected.
There was not much on my calendar for the first few days, very deliberately, except for the first class of the second Suzuki Roshi series. I had timed the end of the trip around that, and figured that since it was a morning slot, jet lag wouldn’t be a problem, though I did feel pretty groggy. I hope people enjoyed it; the talk we chose was pretty dense, and we didn’t have time to unpack it all. Apart from shopping for food and picking up my bike, the only other things I managed over the weekend were gentle spins around town on my bike, and catching up with the first weekend of the new football season.
‘The way I verbalize it to people is that Mu is the expression of no-knowing. This is the most satisfactory way of putting it. Because it’s not a mantra, it’s not a word. It’s not-knowing. Mu is just the top of this whole vast not-knowing. And that’s dark. Whatever comes up, like fear, is also Mu, because you don’t know what it is. You leave aside all your psychoanalytic and other knowledge about what fear is, and face it directly, in the Mu. Facing – not “I” face “that” – but the fear, whatever it is, the churning intestines and the queasy stomach and the constricted throat and the whole thing: let all of that merge into this not-knowing.’ (Meetings With Remarkable Women)
This was another book that I had given to my mother. Some of the content feels a little dated, and thankfully women are more to the fore in many areas of Buddhism in the west than they were in the eighties, but the stories and each teacher’s approach were all well worth revisiting. I offered this one to Rebecca at Hebden Bridge as she embarks on her new life a priest.
‘This morning during breakfast I noticed that your way with utensils was careless. There was too much noise while we ate. These utensils are easy to make noise with and so we must pay particular attention to no-noise — to not making too much noise. You may think this is a small thing in your training, but lt is very important in the study of Zen Buddhism to watch with care. It is within the domain of small things that you will find the Buddha Nature which you manifest, and which you should manifest, whether you recognize this nature or not.
Anyone may enter a Zen Monastery to train. The door of a Zen church Is always open. There is a familiar saying: if you knock the door will open. But with Zen Buddhism there is no door on which to knock. Anyone may enter. That is why it is important to watch your activity with care based on sinceclty.
Dogen Zenji said that those who want to train by Buddhism should first have a sincere mind, the so-called way-seeking mind. The way-seeking mind is not a particular mind outside your life. When you use your utensils with care the way-seeking mind exists at that time. ln a Zen Monastery monks are always advised by the Master not to make too much noise ln whatever they do. When a monk’s utensils fall on the floor, he must bow nine times to the Image of Buddha. In the Zendo, all events, no matter how insignificant they seem, are important for you. Every effort of your mind and body should be centered on your activity. At this time your way-seeking mind, your Buddha Nature, should be aroused.’ (from Wind Bell)
This talk was given during a one-day sitting at the end of 1965 (we will be studying Suzuki Roshi’s talk from the same evening in the first class of the series tomorrow, and I am curious why the Wind Bell transcript for that talk included a few paragraphs that were not on the tape), and it seems like a good example of Katagiri’s style, perhaps a little more direct than Suzuki Roshi.
‘A meditation retreat is very supportive of who we really are and extremely threatening to our conditioned idea of ourselves. In most of our lives, egocentricity is in charge. On retreat, we have an environment in which the heart – our true nature, the gentle self, the self that is not separate from all that is – has an opportunity to be supported and allowed to exist fully, at least for a period of time. While we are sitting on the cushion or doing a work project or whatever, it may not seem that it is leading to anything. And yet, when we leave, we often find that something almost magical happened to us while we were not doing very much, while we were trying to find the willingness to simply follow the schedule and come back to the breath.’ (Sweet Zen)
I found this book in one of my mother’s cupboards. I vaguely remember bringing her a couple of zen books years ago so that she could have a somewhat clearer idea of what it was that I was doing. Around the same time I do remember that we sat and watched a reality show on TV where half-a-dozen ‘regular’ people went to spend some time at a Christian monastery, and then spoke about their experiences and their reactions. That, I said, is kind of what I do without all the entreaties to god. Since she doesn’t read any more on account of her failing eyes, I took them to Hebden Bridge with me to leave in the sangha library there. Look out for more posts from this book over the coming months.
‘I mean, BIPOC all count, right? When we go into a room, we count. If there are four people of color and everybody else is white, then we’re always trying to get the context, to figure out how safe does it feel to be here? But white people don’t do that. They’ll be in a room and just take up the space and not notice dynamics or consider who’s there. In my experience, dominant culture folks don’t like being uncomfortable. To me, if you’re on this path to be comfortable, I think you’re on the wrong path, because this path is super uncomfortable if you’re actually practicing it. It’s confronting our conditioning, our habitual tendencies, our ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. And if we’re not willing to be humbled or listen deeply to how others experience life, then what are we doing together?’ (from Lion’s Roar)
And if reading this makes you feel uncomfortable, then sit with that feeling.
‘An authentic sense of reverence derives from a simple recognition of the truth. We are, in truth, dependent beings. We are, in fact, miniscule within the vast scope of the universe. Reverence is an open and honest response to the depth and magnitude of rality. When we allow ourselves to come under the sway of this feeling, awe and wonder open our minds.’ (The Six Perfections)
‘So, for your teacher, there is not much things to tell you, actually. As a mother tiger doesn’t has — doesn’t have so many things to teach for her children. To live with their children is how to teach [laughs]. Actually there is not much things to tell you. So with beginner’s mind, if you walk [laughs] like your teacher walks, that is the way how to study Buddhism. And for a teacher, try to be a good teacher [laughs] is how to teach Buddhism. That’s all. It is very difficult [laughs] for a teacher to be example of (for) student, and this is impossible. At least for me it is absolutely impossible [laughter]. But if I try very hard to be a good friend of you, within my ability, that is, I think — there is no other way for us to study Buddhism. So beginner’s mind is very important. Just to practice zazen as your teacher, that is the only way.
If you have some doubt on this point, you should read Shobogenzo – ninety-five volumes of Shobogenzo – over and over again [laughs]. Then you will find out how important the beginner’s mind is.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
This talk is one of the ‘lost’ talks that I helped rediscover: checking the dates on photographs of all the material; playing the tape and digitising the contents; realising that this was not a talk that had previously been catalogued or transcribed; transcribing it. This Saturday I shall be discussing it with Abbot Ed, and hopefully a large group of people as we begin the second series of our class on the archives.