Even in Kyoto,
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry,
I long for Kyoto
Even in Kyoto,
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry,
I long for Kyoto
‘It is necessary for you to follow some rules, you know. And you should have some purpose. We say “gan” [pranidhana, vows to some particular end]. Gan means to purpose—to have some purpose. For—for Buddhists, to save all sentient being, even though it is not possible. To save them all, is our final desire. Our effort should be directed to that direction. So, if the purpose of [laughs] making garden is to help hungry people [laughs], you see, you—you should protect the plant from hail and insects.
So, there should be some purpose, or else we cannot live. To live means to have some purpose. And that purpose sometime, you know, not complete, or not wide enough. Everyone works for someone else at the same time. Even a thief will be kind to his wife or [laughs] at least to himself. But he is not kind enough to—to be kind to his neighbors [laughs]. That is why he steals something from neighbor. So, we should have some ultimate desire for which we strive.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
‘Being fully alive also means aligning our lived lives with what in Zen is called the inmost request. The inmost request is what we most truly want from being alive. We can ask ourselves, “What do I really want?” And in search of an answer, for a while, we may grasp for the implements of worldly happiness and excitement (pleasure, power, money, favorite objects), but that’s usually not the final answer. If we keep searching, we will probably arrive at a version of the insight that what we really want is to be at ease with our here-now-aliveness—with what our life already is at this very moment. I call that unconditional aliveness. I say unconditional because now our sense of contentment is not dependent on feeling good or happy anymore. In other words, now we can feel truly at home in our aliveness even when life is uncomfortable or boring.’ (from The Dewdrop)
‘There is no liberation in being conceited about what we know. Knowledge can be a burden, cluttering our perceptions. When we become self-satisfied about what we know, we become stagnant. What is most important is to see and hear clearly, with no preconceptions. The more we can do this, the more compassionate we naturally grow. To become the eyes and see, to become the ears and hear – this is true wisdom. Judgment has no place here.’ (Not One Single Thing)
Although it wasn’t why I planned my trip for this time, once the sangha in England knew I was coming, I was asked if I could assist Ingen (who was shuso at my first Tassajara practice period, and who now has his own place in Ireland) with a shukke tokudo for Devin, who I knew from previous times in Glastonbury. It was an honour to be able to help, even if it meant bringing my robes over (being still determined to travel with just my carry-on back pack, I packed fewer other clothes; since it has been chilly so far, I have been wearing one of my two combinations of warm layers all at the same time).
Saturday was as grey as Friday, with more passing rain as I headed down to Gaia House. The major roads soon turned into narrow lanes lined with tall hedges, which I am familiar with from Cornwall, but haven’t tried to drive along for a few years. Thankfully the only people I came across were on foot, just by the driveway to Gaia House.
I had been taken there for a visit on one of my early teaching trips to Totnes, so just about knew what to expect. That the first person I saw inside was Chris, who I knew from Tassajara, was unexpected; he and Kathleen were helping keep things ticking along, having just moved there a week ago.
The silence was comforting, as were the grounds. After breakfast on Sunday, not having got up to sit, I walked around in the low sun, with a chorus of doves, nesting crows, blackbirds and who knows what else chirping away. Blossoms were out, the majestic old trees glowed in the light, and everything felt alive.
One of the things I had been asked to do was shave Devin’s head, which is never the easiest thing – the only other time I did this, at Zen Center, the combination of thick hair, albeit already buzzed, and a disposable razor, meant that I had felt I was inflicting misery on my dharma brother. Thankfully Devin sat still and didn’t seem to mind as I got to work this time.
Ingen held the space for the ceremony beautifully; apart from some recalcitrant charcoal, everything went smoothly, with many people having helped gather all the necessary elements. I had panicked a little as I couldn’t remember the exact path for the jundo I was leading Devin around before he joined the ceremony, but he was able to steer me right. My other responsibility was to help him put on his okesa, which went without mishap.
Once we had taken all the photos at the end, I took off my robes and followed another car to Devin and Nickie’s house in the next village for cake and sandwiches. And then I bade my farewells and drove over the moor, on a road I had taken once before, when I had been heading from Totnes to my dad’s house.
It was as beautiful as ever, with flowering gorse, sheep and ponies wandering freely, and the late sun illuminating the hills and valleys. The hotel I had booked was old and quaint, with a surprisingly tasty dinner – I ate more than I should have considering the earlier party food – and a four-poster bed in my room.
In the morning I set off for a hike I had planned, alongside the Dart, to Wistman’s Wood, then up to the tors, and back along the crown of the hills. It felt magical to be out in land that was familiar (even if I hadn’t spent time in this particular stretch of moorland), with no-one else in sight, taking in the infinite nuances of light, the rocks and trees, and the long views (I will post more photos on my Patreon page).
Reluctantly I got back in the car to drive back to Bristol, along the road I used to ride when I went to visit my dad, cautiously through the narrow villages, and finally back on the major roads, passing through a heavy rain storm on the M5. It’s all trains for the rest of my trip, which is way more relaxing, though I had a couple of cold waits on platforms on my way up to Hereford to spend a few days with my declining mother.
‘Whatever you do, wherever you may be, you are doing it in the Buddha’s world. Buddha’s world means the universe. The universe is nothing but the total manifestation of the truth by which all sentient beings are supported, upheld, naturally, if we open our hearts. If we don’t open our hearts, it’s a little bit difficult. Difficult means it takes a long time.
But, basically, the universe and truth are very compassionate and kind toward all sentient beings. Constantly the compassionate universe is helping, just like the rain. Rain is accepted by many kinds of beings; some of the plants that are rained on grow, but some of them do not. If we don’t open our hearts it’s pretty hard to grow, it really takes time.
But still, the rain is just the rain. Rain continues to fall to support all sentient beings.’ (Returning to Silence)
‘In 1985, I was in Burma practicing intensive loving-kindness meditation. I had been there three months when I had a realization. I saw that up until then, I had considered love something that was in someone else’s hands. They were either going to deliver it to me or take it away. It was as if the UPS person arrived with a package of love, but if they got to my doorstep and decided they had the wrong address, I would have no love in my life.
In that retreat, I realized that was not true. Love is inside me. Other people might awaken it or threaten it, but as a capacity, it’s mine. That was incredibly liberating and also a little daunting. Because—and here’s the big question—if it’s an ability, does that mean it’s my responsibility to try to cultivate it, even in difficult circumstances?’ (from Lion’s Roar)
In my begging bowl Violets and dandelions Jumbled together I offer them To the Buddhas Of the three worlds
I noticed I was sighing a lot at the end of each thing that got done before I left: after the last commuting day; after the last class; after the two roams. None of these things were hard or unpleasant, but having got them out the way, I was one step closer to being able to get everything else done for my trip. My usual thing with stress of not having too many things, but having many things before the thing I think I should be concentrating on.
We managed to wrap up the Dogen well enough, though I didn’t get through all my material – people contributed a lot to the discussion with observations and questions, and I was just about staying afloat of notions of time and space. After a sweet roam from Mountain Lake to the Mission on the Friday, there was a good loop of Glen Canyon and Diamond Heights on Saturday afternoon, with abundant wildflowers, and views to the distance in the clear spring light, for all that the wind was cold.
I felt motivated to keep my climbing legs in good shape until I left and had an idea to go up both San Bruno mountain and Sweeney Ridge on my bike before I went to Europe. I managed to do both and it was very satisfying – perhaps not as satisfying as getting up Mount Diablo a year ago, but still very pleasant, even with chilly winds, onshore winds both times.
A dear friend also passed through town on Sunday night, so I borrowed a car to pick her up from the airport, and take her back the next morning before a solid few hours of sitting, study, and teaching. But since I had nothing scheduled on Tuesday, I worked my way through everything on my to-do list, and still had time to clean and tidy before heading off to the airport.
Unusually, I managed to sleep – or at least rest – for much of the overnight flight, which left me feeling perkier than usual once I had arrived in London. Getting to my friend’s house was very smooth; we chatted through the evening, and then I slept very deeply for a few hours.
Then the next journey began, taking the train on a bright spring day to Bristol, through the very familiar countryside that I grew up in, to pick up a car and drive to my sister’s. The roads were busy and narrow, so it was a little nerve wracking, but I arrived in one piece, and got to relax for the rest of the day.
Friday was also not very busy, though we drove west to meet my step-sister and -brother. I have known them since I was seven or eight, and have seen Jane a few times in recent years, but John and I didn’t think we had met in twenty-five years. It was nice to catch up, and we had a very relaxed lunch in a village pub with two resident French bulldogs begging for food in a most appealing way. We walked around the village and it started raining some just as we got back to the pub.
This weekend will be more ceremonial, and I will write about that next time.
‘Water is not necessarily pure or impure by origin. The body is not necessarily pure or impure by origin. All things are like this. Water is not sentient or insentient. The body is not sentient or insentient. All things are like this.
The teaching of the Buddha, the World-Honored One, is like this. It is not that you purify the body with water; there is a method to maintain buddha dharma with buddha dharma. This is called cleansing.
You authentically receive this cleansing in person with the single body-mind of buddha ancestors. This is to see and hear a single phrase of buddha ancestors. It is to abide clearly in a sole radiant light of buddha ancestors. This is to actualize immeasurable, boundless merit.
At the very moment of embodying the awesome presence of this practice in body-mind, the timeless original practice is fully accomplished. Thus, the body-mind of this practice is originally actualized.’ (Shobogenzo – Cleansing Fascicle)
This was another section I pulled out for the class. I was interested in the repetition of the phrase ‘all things are like this,’ which also appears in the Genjo Koan. If you could summarise Dogen in one phrase, this would be right up there in phrases to choose.