Li Po

The birds have vanished into deep skies.
A last cloud drifts away, all idleness.

Inexhaustible, this mountain and I
gaze at each other, it alone remaining.

Suzuki Roshi

‘How to help people is very– not very difficult thing, but it is rather difficult to explain how to, you know. To help people, in its true sense, is just to join their life, and lead their life as they do, and to be always friend of others. That is the only way. And if they find me something different from them, even though we are in same condition and living same way. This is, I think, how to help them and how to teach them real practice of Zen.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

Interestingly, I had just pulled this quote up when a student texted me to ask how it was that they could help people.

Issho Fujita

‘In zazen our mind pervades throughout, resting with the body that is sitting and breathing. It does not engage with any other activity…

To do zazen means just to sit solely aiming at a correct posture. There is no other need to reach a certain state of mind as a goal or to attain a special experience. Therefore we are freed from anxiety and frustration which comes from seeking for a special state of mind and experience which we have not yet attained and are able to peacefully rest in the here-and-now as it is, nothing special.’ (Polishing A Tile)

Dale S. Wright

‘In their effort to establish a more comprehensive understanding of Buddhist morality, Mahayana sources frequently classify morality into three increasingly significant categories. First, morality as restraint, which aligns with most concerns of early Buddhist moral precepts. Steadfast in renunciation of ordinary worldly desires, the bodhisattva observes the precepts with great care and exactitude and does this with no thought of reward. Second is morality as the cultivation of virtue. Mmore comprehensive than following the Buddhist precepts, the second level of moral practice is grounded in meditation and its concerns for mindfulness. Attentive to all the ways in which enlightenment can be cultivated, the bodhisattva undertakes these regimes of training in order to prepare for the final stage. Third is morality as altruism. This dimension of morality shows the bodhisattva’s overarching concern for the welfare and enlightenment of others. Moral action at this stage, therefore, entails loving service to others, which includes everything from teaching to care for the poor and the sick. In the final analysis, moral action is not individual but collective, and the bodhisattva engages in morality for the betterment and enlightenment of all.’ (The Six Perfections)

We turned back to this book in my student group last week, and this paragraph provided some food for thought.

Jisho Warner

‘Our practice depends on our personal initiative and energy, and yet that is only part of it. We are oriented and taught by the world around us, by what we don’t yet know. The energies we call on for inquiry and action rise in us but don’t originate in us as our own independent entities…

Great energy is native to the four great elements of earth, air, fire, and water. It is equally native to our human selves, so often described by the five aspects of self (skandhas: form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness), which are of course made of the four elements. It is no different whether we think in terms of the four great elements or the hundred-plus elements of the periodic table. The basic elements interact energetically in all things, functioning with the power we call life, or ten-direction universe, or buddha, or dharma. Dogen says that all naturally practice; that is all fulfill their nature completely. And he says that the power of this fulfilled nature is the basis of our practice; it is the motive power, the engine.’ (Receiving the Marrow)

I took this book to Wilbur with me, and it informed and articulated what I felt as I walked and sat in the landscape. Look out for more posts from this chapter soon.

Back to the Land

Many parts of the trip up to Wilbur felt incredibly familiar, from the roads and freeways taken, to the stop at Trader Joe’s in Fairfield, to turning off the 20 to take the bumpy dirt road up the river valley. It was nice to see that a few changes had been made (positive ones in my book) and that the place was in great shape. I was welcomed back by the people I knew who were still there, and warmly welcomed by the new managers, all of which felt very nourishing.

And as I walked back to the buildings, having parked the rental car, I could feel my body relaxing as it did when I arrived at Tassajara a couple of months ago. Only this time, I did not subsequently tweak my back and have trouble moving. In fact, with a combination of walking, sitting, being in the baths, and ignoring the projects I thought I might take care of while I was there, I came away feeling in better shape than I have for a while. 

Although I was used to running the trails when I went before the pandemic, just focusing on walking this time allowed me to take in the landscape much more slowly, to appreciate the trees and the fauna – the rabbits and deer, quail and turkey families, and that really fed my enjoyment of the slow pace of life there. Having my camera with me, and taking an abundance of photographs also enlivened me.

It was cooler than expected when I arrived, and on Saturday it didn’t warm up much. I took that as a good sign to take a hike in the early afternoon, and found myself half way up to the ridge hearing thunder off to the north, with ominous clouds that came our way, and then dropped rain for about half an hour while I sheltered under an oak – more concerned for my camera than for myself. Sunday was clear, and the sun started warming everything early, so it was pretty toasty by the time I headed home in the afternoon. I had managed to turn a little pink from sitting out at the end of the afternoon on Saturday, so I thought it best not to linger in the sun this time.

It seemed quieter than usual, but the people who came for meditation had a lot of good questions, so I enjoyed the interactions, as well as other conversations I had over the weekend. I can’t wait to go back!

A Friday evening walk upstream along the valley.
Saturday afternoon with looming clouds.
Looking down onto the valley.
The rain heading our way.
Soft light after the rain.
Bright sun first thing on Sunday morning.

Domyo Burk

‘It is sometimes said it is the job of the teacher to “keep pulling the rug out from under us” until we no longer fall down – until we are standing in the unassailable place, not on any simple rug. My teacher did this by not-doing; in a sense she refused to offer me any rugs, at least not when I was being really demanding about it. I craved her approval and understanding, but could never get it when I really wanted it. I struggled with this for many years, until finally I truly didn’t need her – or anyone’s – understanding or approval any more. Not that I didn’t want and appreciate connections with others, I just didn’t need their approval to know I was fundamentally OK.

Pulling out the rug is especially important when it comes to spiritual insight; the teacher must keep testing the student, not allowing him/her to concretize an experience, get stuck in a concept or memory, or become arrogant or complacent because of a sense of spiritual accomplishment.’ (from Snow Covered Peaks)

Katagiri Roshi

‘To sit on the chairs of silence is not enough to realize what you are and who you are. Everybody can sit on the chairs of silence and tranquility, on the chairs of understanding transience. Actually, every time you encounter the various phases of human life it is possible to understand what a human being is. Through your experience, I think, you can see that understanding transience is not enough to improve your life in the future. Understanding tranquility or silence is not enough to elevate your life. You have to develop silence and tranquility. The understanding of silence and tranquility on a higher level is the actual practice. In other words, give it life, vivid life …. 

Buddha teaches us that we have to have the Big Mind. Then what is the small mind? The Big Mind as taught by Buddha has nothing to do with the domain between big and small. Even though you think you understand the Big Mind as taught by Buddha, I think this understanding is still floating between your notion of reality and Reality itself. You say “I don’t like this,” but the suffering doesn’t move. 

For the sick student, the most important thing is that she expresses the decision to continue to listen through her everyday life, through the taking care of, through the benign and cheerful treatment of her disease, of her death. Listening to the silence, to the silence and the tranquility, is not merely a notion – it should be bound up with our everyday life …. ‘ (from Wind Bell)

I have been doing some reading around the shosan ceremony that I quoted from recently, and found a wonderful lecture by Katagiri Roshi on life and death.

Keizan Jokin

‘Zazen is far beyond the form of sitting or lying down. Free from considerations of good and evil, zazen transcends distinctions between ordinary people and sages, it goes far beyond judgements of deluded or enlightened. Zazen includes no boundary between sentient beings and buddha. Therefore put aside all affairs, and let go of all associations. Do nothing at all. The six senses produce nothing.

What is this? Its name is unknown. It cannot be called “body”, it cannot be called “mind”. Trying to think of it, the thought vanishes. Trying to speak of it, words die. It is like a fool, an idiot. It is as high as a mountain, deep as the ocean. Without peak or depths, its brilliance is unthinkable, it shows itself silently. Between sky and earth, only this whole body is seen.

This one is without comparison – he has completely died. Eyes clear, he stands nowhere. Where is there any dust? What can obstruct such a one?’ (Zazen Yojinki)

Keizan is usually considered the co-founder of Soto Zen in Japan, alongside Dogen; this text has echoes of Dogen’s work and other, older foundational texts from China, which some of you may spot – but then Dogen himself did this in his writing.