Kay Ryan

We are always
really carrying
a ladder, but it’s
invisible. We
only know
the matter:
something precious
crashes; easy doors
prove impassable.
Or, in the body,
there’s too much
swing or off-
center gravity.
And, in the mind,
a drunken capacity,
access to out-of-range
apples. As though
one had a way to climb
out of the damage
and apology.

(Abbot Ed pointed me to this poem as we were talking about yesterday’s class, in which talk Suzuki Roshi used the image of the tamban-kan, the person carrying a board on one shoulder who can only ever see one side of a situation).

Dale S. Wright

‘The feeling of reverence is an internal and silent celebration of being itself. The sensibilities that accompany it are awe and respect rather than fear and separation. Joyful reverence celebrates our being embedded within the whole of reality in a clarity of mind that overcomes fear.’ (The Six Perfections)

This passage follows right after the last one I posted, and this section also has an observation that some religious thinking promotes fear as part of a resistance to change. I think we can be clear about how Buddhism is the former rather than the latter.

Suzuki Roshi

‘The buddha, in its true sense, is not just different, special one from ordinary man. So ordinary man, in its true sense, is not someone who is not holy or who is not buddha. This is complete understanding of ourselves. With this understanding, if we practice zazen [laughs], if we practice zazen, that is true zazen. You will not be bothered by anything. Whatever you hear, whatever you see, that is okay. Actually, but before you have this kind of actual feeling, of course it is necessary to be accustomed to our practice. Although intellectually we understand ourselves, but if we haven’t actual feeling with it, then it is not so, you know, powerful. And so that is why you must keep on our practice. If you keep practicing our way, naturally, you know, you will have this understanding and this feeling– actual feeling, too.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive).

This is the talk we will be looking at in tomorrow’s class. It is a very sweet talk.

Shoji Nakamura

Chosin consists of arranging or controlling one’s mind through a process consisting of several stages. In the first stage this exercise begins with one’s concentration focused upon the respiration. This focusing upon one point is an active attempt to try to exclude all other thoughts from entering the mind. However, paradoxically, doing this focused concentration actually activates the flow of unrealistic mental phenomena. Unrealistic phenomena in this case are defined as images, ideas, thoughts and fantasies that enter the mind. When this occurs, the practitioner should remember that these mental phenomena are unrealistic and the products of an undisciplined mind. He should then let them flow through the mind while concentrating upon respiration.
The next stage of Chosin differs considerably from the first one. Whereas, in the first stage, one is encouraged to concentrate on one object and exclude the other objects, in the second stage the practitioner is encouraged to concentrate evenly on everything that comes to mind, including physical sensations, images, ideas. thoughts and fantasies. That is to say, one has to pay attention to this very moment, the totality of what is happening right now. This state of attention can be referred to as meditation or mindfulness. As this state continues, various unrealistic mental phenomena appear for a moment, and then disappear the next. In the final stage of Chosin the practitioner’s self-consciousness as the one who sees disappears, and is replaced with the sense that the one who sees has been united with the one who is seen – stated differently MU (non-attachment beyond being and non-being) and KU (non-substance). This state of mind and body is called HISHIRYOU (to think beyond thinking and non-thinking) or SHINJINNDATSURAKU (state which body and mind has dropped out).’ (Zen Practice and Self-Control)

I don’t remember where I picked up this short article from. It is a combination of dry analysis and insight, but I thought this paragraph was worth sharing.


‘True appearances are not something that can be expressed by ordinary conceptions or everyday language. So how can we say they are empty or that they exist, much less argue about them? Nevertheless, true appearances do not exist apart from anything else. Hence, we shouldn’t speak of them as separate from language. At the same time, if we don’t rely on speech, we have no other means to lead beings from attachment toward understanding. Thus, as long as we aren’t misled by provisional names when we speak of the nature of dharmas, there is no harm in using “existence’ or ’emptiness’ to describe them. Some people say true appearances are objective truth, which isn’t created by the Buddha or by anyone else but is realized by insight. Others say true appearances transcend such dialectics – that they are the absolute, subjective mind – the mind’s self-nature. Actually, they are neither subjective nor objective, nor is there any ‘realization’ or ‘true mind’we can even speak of!’ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)

Got it?

Twenty-Five Hundred Strong

WordPress helpfully keeps a tally of how many posts you have published, and today marks 2500, which is a lot – and an even greater number of words. Not bad for a blog that has as its subject a teaching “outside the scriptures/No dependency on words and letters.”

It is a good moment to look back and reflect. First of all thanks to everyone who reads these posts, for without your attention, there would be no reason for me to do this. While initially conceived as a way to establish an online presence as I transitioned out of Zen Center, it soon felt like a way that I could help people in their practice, no matter how small the scale. I know that reading the dharma every day helps my practice, and I hope it does yours as well.

In some ways I still feel that I am transitioning out of Zen Center, though currently I am as involved as I have been since 2015, with the current Suzuki Roshi class I am co-leading with Abbot Ed, and an upcoming talk in September and class on the Tenzo Kyokun to come in October. Moreover I have also started to sit afternoon zazen again, now that the zendo has reopened and now that I live again at a convenient distance. This brings back home to me the communal aspect of sitting – not just sitting for ourselves but as a constituent part of the sangha, as I recently also got to experience in Belfast and Hebden Bridge, creating the space for everyone to enjoy their sitting and to feel encouraged in doing so.

A few times over the years I have questioned whether I want to continue to do this; I find myself spending less time reading dharma books these days (partly as a result of not commuting by BART since the pandemic), and I don’t always have the time to sit and transcribe sections (though the new phone ability to scan text has already made an impact in this regard!). Over the past year or two there have been plenty of reposts from years gone by, not least because I am often quite surprised by what I find when I go through the archive. Nevertheless, it feels right to carry on posting, both here and on Instagram, despite how depressing the algorithms have become.

And, despite the words attibuted to Bodhidharma that I quoted above, thinking about the Tenzo Kyokun also reminds me of the passage I have both quoted and commented on over the years: “What I previously saw of words and phrases is one, two, three, four, five. Today what I see of phrases is also six, seven, eight, nine, ten. My junior fellow-practitioners, completely see this in that, completely see that in this. Making such an effort you can totally grasp one-flavor Zen through words and phrases.”

May we all continue to grasp one-flavor Zen through words and phrases.

Joko Beck

‘Anyone who sits for any length of time sees that there is no past and no future except in our minds. There is nothing but Self, and Self is always here, present. It’s not hidden. We’re racing around like mad trying to find something called Self, this mysterious, hidden Self. Where is it hidden? We hope for something that is going to take care of our little self because we don’t realize that already we are Self. There’s nothing around us that is not Self. What are we looking for?’ (Meetings With Remarkable Women)


The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But, like like the deep blue colour
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world


‘The Buddhadharma is not far off. It’s as close as your mind. Reality is not somewhere outside. How can you find it, if you turn away from yourself? Whether you’re deluded or awake depends upon you. Make up your mind, and you will be there. Whether you’re in the light or in the dark doesn’t depend on others. Have faith and practice, and you will soon know the truth. If you don’t take the medicine of the Great Physician, when will you see the light of the sun?’ (Commentary on the Heart Sutra)

New Vistas

One of the great joys of travel, apart from getting to relax and take in new or familiar places, is the perspective on your life it offers when you return. Coming back to San Francisco last week felt comforting, and I was also happy to slowly settle back into my regular routines with some fresh energy – jetlag notwithstanding. I had not scheduled much for myself in the first few days of being back, apart from launching the Suzuki Roshi class, so I could ease myself in and try to catch up with the many miscellaneous strands of things I do.

Happily the weather has been extremely pleasant since I got back; with plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures, the sky bright and vivid, and the sunrises and sunsets that I saw rich and colourful. 

I have had other recent experiences of getting fresh perspectives in recent weeks, which I have been wanting to try to put words to. There have been a spate of park openings in the city this year, all on the north side of town. A few weeks ago, we had a roam that took in Francisco Park, poised on the edge of Russian Hill above Ghirardelli Square. I have walked around all the edges of the park when it was just the abandoned space of the old reservoir that fed fresh water to the city in its earliest incarnations. Standing in the middle of it, surrounded by people relaxing and enjoying themselves, I had an uncanny sense of spaciousness, and a feeling that I was trying to bring this new view, these surroundings, into my body to make them feel as familiar as other vistas are. 

Francisco Park also has lovely flowers.

Similarly, with the Tunnel Tops in the Presidio, which opened to great fanfare while I was away (and to a lesser extent the adjacent Battery Bluffs), I rode my bike down there the morning after I returned to orient myself to the newly available space, and found another relaxed crowd – I chatted with a hiking group who had come up from the South Bay to explore – and unbelievable views across to the Golden Gate Bridge, the islands, large swathes of the bay, as well as seeing the city off in the distance. It is not so different from the view you can get at water level on Crissy Field, and yet it felt totally new. 

On Sunday afternoon we will visit these new spaces in the Presidio as part of the next roam. I expect there will be a crowd showing up, but please come along if you feel moved, and we will take in the new perspectives together, and hopefully feel revitalised in our lives as a result.

Two views from the Tunnel Tops