A monk asked, “What is the substance of the true person?”
The master said, “Spring, summer, autumn, winter.”
The monk said, “In that case it is hard for me to understand,”
The master said, “You asked about the substance of the true person, didn’t you?” (The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu)
Ah, the delicate interplay of relative and absolute again…
‘I know that my life here, as an individual entity, is not accidental. We can understand that without our parents and endless parents before us, our lives would not be here, but when we go into our own biological presence, and then go way, way back, it gets too complicated, so we don’t try to know it. One life is like a little spring plum blossom, blooming on an aged, aged plum tree. The tree has moss all over it and you are blooming at the tip of a little green new branch. So you look around, in this stage of life, and notice we all look alike. Whether man or woman doesn’t matter. There are two eyes, something sitting in the middle of the face, and each body, from a young baby to an aged person about to step into the coffin, all look quite similar. Remembering how your life has continued from the very far past up to today’s life here, is too profound, too miraculous. You don’t want to think about it.
Thinking about the future, where you might be, where you might live, is even more impossible.’ (Kobun Chino)
Towards the end of last week I started feeling really run down, to the extent that I went out and bought some Covid tests (while I await my next free set to come in the mail) just to make sure I wasn’t going to infect anyone on Saturday’s roam. I didn’t have any symptoms beyond tiredness, and the test was negative, so I went ahead, and, after a couple of days more rest, I felt fine again. I have heard from several friends who either managed to travel during the rather apocalyptic weather across the US, or who had to postpone their trips, that they were also feeling very low energy if not symptomatic of anything. Since I have a number of days off, I am reminding myself to take it easy, and the wet forecast is obviously helping with that. In any case, here is an old passage from the Ino’s Blog that might help if you are feeling the same way:
I remember at Tassajara, when I was on the kitchen crew, I found myself really struggling with tiredness, from the combination of the tough schedule and the physical activity. I talked with Reb about it, and he asked what I was doing during break times. When it’s time to rest, he recommended, you should rest. I have tried to abide by this guideline ever since; the ino’s schedule can be pretty strenuous, and if I rest when I can, it makes it easier to have the energy to get through the remainder of it. This is one thing I always notice when I am feeling ill – I appreciate, from the lack of it, how much energy it takes to get through a normal day. I also find something comforting in feeling the effort my body is making to fight off the virus: I enjoy a good sweat, especially when it ends up breaking the fever. So can we appreciate being sick? Can we say, when it’s time to be sick, just be sick? Perhaps, if we can take it as a message from our bodies to slow down and take care of ourselves, pause from our usual activities – if we are able to do so – and also be thankful for people’s offers of medicine and help: I received a thermos full of delicious fresh ginger tea with lemon and honey, which Blanche brews up for people who are suffering, and which, along with the good wishes, was a great tonic.
‘Beginners in zazen usually find their minds confused and disturbed. This is natural. There are two great obstacles to zazen. The first is konjin, which means depression or a kind of melancholy. When a beginner experiences konjin, it is usually in the form of sleepiness.
Experienced sitters who have calmed and quieted their minds sometimes feel faint. And if the zazen condition deepens more, the sitter may fall into muso-jo or “no consciousness.” Some people believe that the zazen mind is simply loss of consciousness; however, this is wrong. In the right zazen mind, all aspects of consciousness do not function, but this does not mean unconsciousness as in sleep. The mind condition in zazen is called “shonen sozoku,” or the “succession of right-mindedness.” This is different from the “no-mindedness” which implies no consciousness. It is a good thing to calm the waves of the mind; however, a sleepy or dead condition, is a kind of konjin.
Some people feel they are in a deep fog or melancholy. One must rid one’s self of such mental conditions.
The second obstacle to zazen is called joko. For beginners this means to be in a fidget with many thoughts or ideas running through the mind. There are two types of mind waves: the first, ideas created by oneself from inside; the second, those which come from outside through the senses. Those who have experience in zazen may feel great elation; they may jump up from their cushions believing they have attained en-lightenment. This can result from sitting intently in the wrong way. Or, they may see the great light of the Buddha and feel grateful and ecstatic. Such experiences are serious obstacles; they must be overcome as quickly as possible.
These conditions are sometimes thought to be enlightenment; however, they are the result of bodily or mental fatigue or of a misunderstanding of the meaning of zazen. When zazen has deepened, one may feel bursts of great joy. The real satori is called “the mind of great joy.”
This joy, however, emanates from the mind which has transcended all relative joys as well as sorrows. Therefore we must not try to grasp these small joys; we must go beyond them, no matter how difficult and undesirable this may seem.’ (The Way of Zazen)
‘It seems clear to us today that long-term processes of evolution have gradually given rise to the increasing complexity of our physical being. Our bodies function as they do through a variety of complex systems working in conjunction with one another – respiratory, muscular, digestive, circulatory, and nervous systems, to name just a few. These particular systems permit us to process oxygen, move through space, digest nutrients, and centralize control of our lives through conscious awareness.
To live as a human being requires that these systems and others (skeletal, epidermal, glandular, and so on) function effectively and in conjunction with each other. The achievement of excellence in any domain beyond the physical is fully dependent on a high level of function in bodily systems. High levels of physical vitality make optimal mental function possible.
All processes contribute to this vitality, but it might be important to learn from Buddhists to pay particular attention to the respiratory system, the system that makes oxygen available to every part of our bodies, especially the brain, where human awareness is centralized and controlled. Here we notice the conjunction of two different perfections, the perfections of energy and meditation, because it is in the processes of meditation that we come to recognize the enhanced quantity of energy that is made available through practices of conscious breathing that are mastered in Buddhist meditation. Oxygen wakes us up in every sense, and all of us know this intuitively even if not consciously. Bringing this fact to mind and learning ways to take advantage of it is perhaps half of what there is to learn in meditation.
Deeper, calmer, and more conscious breathing gives rise to deeper, calmer, more conscious life, from processes of thinking and perception through all dimensions of immediate experience.’ (The Six Perfections)
In teaching meditation, I am always banging on about the breath, and its role in regulating the nervous system, but I have not been so vocal about how it nourishes the brain as well.
‘Pure water has neither front nor back. In a clear sky there is essentially no inside and out side. Like them – transparent and clear – zazen shines brightly by itself. Form and void are undivided nor are objects and wisdom apart. They have been together from time eternal and have no name. The Third Patriarch, a great teacher, tentatively called it “Mind”; the respected Nagarjuna called it “Body.” It expresses the form of the Buddha and the body of the Buddhas. This full-moon form has neither lack nor excess. Anyone self-identified with this mind is a Buddha. The light of this self, shining both now and in the past, gains shape and fulfills the samadhi of the Buddhas.’ (Zazen Yojinki)
Leaking from the rock
in an old temple,
water barely trickles –
of the lingering dharma.
‘Xuedou addressed the monks, saying, “Even if you experience the earth shaking and the sky raining flowers, how can that compare to going back to the monk’s hall and building a fire in the stove?” The master then left the hall.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)
What could be better? Especially in the middle of winter.
‘Some people say, “If we have a perfect social construction, we will not have these difficulties.” But as long as there is human nature, nothing will help us. On the contrary, the more human culture advances, the more difficulties we will have in our life. The advancement of civilization will accelerate this contradiction in our nature. When we realize the absolute presence of our contradictory nature, the way-seeking mind arises, and we begin to work on ourselves instead of the material world. Most people who are interested in Buddhism are more or less critical of our social condition, expecting a better social framework. Some people have become disgusted with our human life. We cannot approve of these criticisms fully, however, because they do not rest on the full understanding of our human nature.
Human nature is always the same. Some people may say our spiritual culture will progress when our material civilization progresses. Strictly speaking, however, as long as we have human nature, it is impossible to obtain a perfect idealistic spiritual culture in our human world. We should fully realize this point. Because of our uneasiness, we are too anxious to achieve something perfect in our spiritual life. Here we have some danger. Our spiritual life cannot be regarded as we have come to regard our material life. You cannot work on your spiritual life as you do your materialistic life. Even though you talk about our spiritual life thousands of times, it will not help you. It is necessary to know actually what is our human world, or what is our human nature. This is a very important point. If you fail to observe our human nature fully, even though you study Buddhism, what you acquire is not what Buddha meant.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)
‘My first impression of Green Gulch Farm was that it was a mess, not a bad mess, but just sprawling and sloppy in the western way and muddy in the California winter way and unmechanized in the organic hippie way. The disorder was heightened by the fact that a site had just been cleared for a new tea house about to be built by Japanese carpenters and craftsmen who specialized in that type of building. The tea house would be in the middle of the valley, and so its site, an expanse of mud, dominated everything.
Clustered in the mid-valley, all the buildings at Green Gulch were made of dark, rough, unpainted wood and sat in the shade of eucalyptus, which fed their odor into the air. The fields lay down toward the ocean, and above on the hillsides a few horses munched.
We went inside The Barn, where most residential students slept and where the zendo was. I instantly liked it. It felt American, with high-ceilings, bare wood floors, dark bare wood walls. That Sunday morning it echoed with feet. The entrance hall’s second story was ringed with students’ doorways along a balcony. Below, we took off our shoes and quietly stepped into the combination zendo/Buddha hall. There was a large, colorful Buddhist statue but it did not dominate as did the one at City Center; in fact it was nearly lost among the students as they filed in.’ (from Cuke.com)
Wendy has been one of the people working hard to transcribe Suzuki Roshi lectures over the past few years; I heard from Peter, who manages cuke.com, that he had been working on extracts of the journal Wendy kept when she visited Zen Center in 1979 (you may be more or less familiar with the context of the visit – if you want to know more, click the link above). I read through it last week and have been sharing it with dharma friends. It is a wonderfully observant and trenchant account of life there by an outsider, some of which still resonates today.