Kodo Sawaki

‘Zazen is to sit down desiring nothing. We speak of eternity, but according to the Way of the Buddha, eternity is to practice here and now. If I succeed in making you understand this in the deepest part of yourself, you will not live in darkness until you’re fifty! But unless you grasp this essential point, you cannot follow the Way of the Budda. Zazen is also to practice the precepts here and now. Now! Now! Now! Life is a succession of”now.”‘ (Commentary on The Song Of Awakening)

Robin Wall Kimmerer

‘While expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. The Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need. Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy. That’s good medicine for land and people alike.’ (Braiding Sweetgrass)

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it may be that you remember this post, also from a woman with strong environmental credentials.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘One who receives or tries to follow the vows (even if they are not ordained) isn’t suddenly a “good” person. We don’t follow the vows to please each other, or to be better white people or better black people, or to be better people in general. Living the vows doesn’t even mean you have to or can accomplish anything, or that you can teach folks to be good people if you have been sanctioned to teach.

The goodness in everyone, revealed or not, is the devotion, the love, the enthusiasm to love all of life as much as we love to walk in the woods or by the ocean. We love being close to who we are, to feel our stillness within all that weighs heavy on us, or at least to have the time to sit with the heavy until it is understood as material for our own liberation.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Muriel Daw

‘Sesshin week gets worse and worse. Nerves are strained to breaking-point. The tension rises. Then, usually around the fourth day, there is a sudden lull, and every-one gets his second wind. What has for each been an individual life-and-death struggle, becomes a harmony. Face-to-face confrontations between Roshi and pupil are still intense, but they have a deeper multi-dimensional quality in this new atmosphere. The week continues like the last movement of a concerto building up to its great climax.’ (from the Middle Way)

Another evocative description from an account of training with Soen Nakagawa.


Worldly affairs pass slowly by,
Incomparable to the mountains and hills,
Lying under wisteria vines,
With a stone for my pillow.
No audience with the Son of Heaven,
Why envy princes and nobles?
No worries about life and death,
What further distress could there be?

Issho Fujita

‘When we hear that zazen is about no achievement, we immediately ask, “If zazen is that, how can I do it?” But this is a question exactly stemming from the framework based on “means and end” which is always behind the shuzen approach. It is nothing but an undertaking to grasp zazen using the shuzen concept. This shuzen attitude is deeply rooted in our way of behavior and thinking. That is why we should take a radically different approach to zazen so that we can avoid changing zazen into shuzen, consciously or unconsciously.’ (from the Soto Zen Journal)

A radically different approach is what makes zazen so valuable, and so challenging (more on zazen and shuzen here).

Corey Ichigen Hess

‘When I met the Roshi, the love he showed me for many years was what got me to the monastery and what kept me there. People think Zen is cold, but my expereince was the complete opposite. 

Through the training, I gradually and then very suddenly broke through the mesh of my own internal chaos. Once I found my own connection to this truth, to God or source or Grace, then I was not so needy, I did not need love anymore. I did not need it anymore ever again from anyone. It was like I was then embraced by a love I could never have imagined. And then I was able to really receive love, and to give love in normal ways as well. 

The byproduct of giving in to kensho was this love shining through. Love for all things. Love for reality. It’s like we see that we are just love. And something sharable. Something I could offer to others. No longer was I such a slave to myself, but a channel to share this with others. After Kensho, the practice was not about me anymore, but about helping others. This is something more than the vow to save all beings. It was something like a cellular switch. 

Now, fifteen years later, integrating all of this, I’m a goofy dad and husband. I am integrating and embodying this stuff in my own way more with each year. I’m not perfect, no way. The practice keeps that channel open. It keeps the signal coming through. It is a clear physical way for me to work with and interact with my stuck places, be that physical or emotional or all of the above, and I am constantly taught by them and reality how to yield, how to push.’ (from Zen Embodiment)

I have quoted from this lovely blog before, and this recent post summed up beautifully the stages of practice and how we come to embody them in our lives, way beyond the monastery.

Shauzhou Zhangjing

Shauzhou Zhangjing said to the assembly, “If you take one step forward, you will be at odds with reality. If you take one step backward, you will lose touch with phenomena. If you remain immovable, you will be like an insentient being.”
A monk asked, “How can we not be like an insentient being?”
Shauzhou said, “Keep moving in your daily activities.”
The monk asked, “How can we not be at odds with reality and not lose touch with phenomena?”
Shauzhou said, “One step forward, one step backward.”
The monk bowed.
Shauzhou said, “In going beyond, one may understand it in this way. But I will not approve it.”
The monk said, “Master, please point directly for me.”
Shauzhou hit him and drove him out. (Shinji Shobogenzo)

The commentary points out, ‘A good sailor knows to trim the sails according to the wind.’ The wind is always moving, as Dogen reminds us in the Genjo Koan, so we should be as well. Keep moving in your daily activities. And don’t ask a second time.


‘As you are will not do; not as you are will not do. Either way, nothing will do. Now what?’

Any thoughts?

Dharma Gates Of Joy And Ease

As we approach the one-year anniversary of moving into lockdown, it seems inevitable that there will be a fair amount of reminiscing. I have recently had a couple of outings to the places we took the last couple of roams – the Botanical Garden as the magnolias started to bloom, and the wave organ at the Marina – and thought back to those occasions twelve months ago. Ideas about resuming them still seem way off in the future; when I canceled my trip to England last March, I rebooked the ticket for August but reality overtook that optimism ; these days I have a notion that it might feel safe to get on a trans-Atlantic flight by the end of the summer, though I suspect I will be disappointed again.

It is commonplace, and completely understandable, to talk of how frazzled we all are from the impact of lockdown and isolation. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to continue earning money, and co-habiting with my partner for the past few months has taken care of my suffering from lack of human contact and brought so much joy to my day-to-day life.

As you may recall from the time, getting out on my bike has also contributed greatly to my well-being during the lockdowns. What I have most noticed about my riding in the past year is how I have shaped my routes to avoid aggravations. This partly started with not crossing the bridge to ride in Marin: apart from my increased anxiety when being on the bridge itself, unless there is no wind at all, I had been finding in recent years that the traffic in and around Mill Valley and Mount Tam to be of greater volume and often accompanied by less consideration – or sometimes greater aggression. There are incredible landscapes to be ridden out in Marin, and I have been riding them for two decades; now I am less convinced that they are worth the hassle of getting there.

In place of that, I have been building up my repertoire south of the city. Some of the landscapes are not so tremendous, but the riding is more relaxing. San Bruno Mountain is not as tall as Mount Tam, but is much easier to get to, and has two car-free sections on its slopes; Sweeney Ridge has been a revelation in the past year – also car-free towards the top, and the trail along the San Andreas reservoirs to Crystal Springs a wonderful retreat from traffic.

The last time I was out on the trail, a couple of weeks ago, though, I despaired at the number of people not wearing masks on what was a busy morning, when you couldn’t go a few yards without passing someone, the trail being too narrow to give six feet of space. So I have put that aside for the time being – unless I can go earlier, or on a week day – and instead focus on the other good riding possibilities. The mental map I have been creating is now pretty robust. I find that even doing a route once leaves an impression: oh, this is a tough climb, but nice; this stretch has too many cars; this route is more relaxing than the slightly more direct way. My body relaxes or tenses in response to this stored memory, and I am doing my best not to add more tension in my life.

It feels like doing this – choosing routes with less aggravation – is a way I am taking care of myself. I am building a good set of habits to help me keep my equanimity. This is something that is worth doing in all aspects of our lives. What would it look like for you?

One of the magnolia trees at the Botanical Garden.
Looking along to the wave organ at the Marina. Alcatraz is in the background.