The sacred place is not remote;
No special road leads to it.
If one proceeds where a guide has pointed
He will find only a slippery, moss-covered bridge.
The sacred place is not remote;
‘People often ask me if zazen can ever be of any practical use in these complex and turbulent times. By way of answering, let us consider the concept of aligning. The word align signifies the idea of situating everything in its proper position relative to everything else. First we align our body, then we align our breathing, then we align our mind. And once these things are accomplished, we find that we cannot be satisfied with aligning only our individual minds, but that we must finally align ourselves with the Mind of the larger Self that pervades all existence.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)
This seems like a good moment to dust off this post.
‘Yunmen once lived in a temple called the Chapel of Holy Trees. One morning a government official called on him and asked, “Are your holy fruits well-ripened now?” “None of them was ever called green by anyone, ” answered Yunmen.’ (The Iron Flute)
How does the fruit get to be ripe if it was never green? Maybe we can let go of the idea of stages, and just be complete right now.
‘Try to instill the habit of lingering in your life. Leave the urge to hurry on to the next thing and replace it with a hankering for the more settled, deeper conversations that develop when people commit to spending time together. Give someone the gift of saying “I have nowhere else I’d rather be than here with you.” Shed the armor of busyness and distraction and see what happens when you choose to stay in one place for a while. Dawdle. Let the conversation meander.’ (Finding Yourself In The Kitchen)
I smiled on reading this passage recently: readers with long memories may remember I addressed my struggles with this issue, and the role that monastic training may have had in exacerbating my own tendencies. I am happy to keep learning how to do the opposite.
I initially had this on the slate for the spring, and it was one of the posts that I put aside once the pandemic landed. It didn’t seem that it was time to talk about lingering with others. But we can do that with our intimates as well as with friends and acquaintances.
‘I often think about power and how quickly a situation can change with a caring and wise heart. I think about the moments when we can see beyond judgment and self-interest to choose rather than react — the moments when small, caring choices can influence a social balance. This, I think, is the power of equanimity.
Equanimity is a sustained state of balance, seeing what’s here with evenness of mind — a mind that is touched by life but unbroken by its ever-changing nature. It’s a prominent concept in Buddhism, often represented in images of stillness, ease, compassion, and strength and regarded as the fruit of spiritual practice.
Equanimity is an invaluable inner resource that is cultivated through awareness. It is the experience of knowing the movement of the mind without reactiveness, an experience of grounded presence amidst extremes. When the mind is steady and responsive, we can say to ourselves, “This moment is like this, and it doesn’t have to be different right now. I can allow what is here and offer what is needed.”’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘If someone asks me: What is Prajna Paramita? I will answer: practice of zazen. If someone asks again: What is the practice of zazen? I will answer: To open Buddha’s eating bowl and to take bath in evening.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
I had pulled this quote out from a talk, and then posted it to Instagram having forgotten where I had got it from. I attributed it to Dogen – so I wasn’t far off really. The phrasing certainly sounds like Dogen, and Suzuki Roshi, as I often say, was channeling Dogen for his new students in America. In fact these lines came from the first Tassajara sesshin, in the summer of 1967; from the shosan ceremony, to be precise, where Suzuki Roshi answered the questions of those sincerely trying to understand their practice and zen practice. And the answer: eating and bathing, at the appropriate times. Naturally.
‘When freedom is defined as “personal liberty” it’s about being free to pursue our desires. But Buddhism is about seeing through our desires, not pursuing them. No matter how lofty our desires seem to be, they are still desires. The Buddhist teachings ask us to avoid being carried away by what we want.’ (from Hardcore Zen)
I guess that’s the difference between Buddhism and Americanism; good to remember in these times.
The followers of Buddha are extolled in every quarter
The disciples of Confucius are praised throughout the world
I sit on a rock among vines and creepers
Now and then watching the drifting clouds
That pass before my eyes.
The heatwave evaporated to be replaced by seasonally appropriate temperatures – from wandering around in shorts all day to suddenly needing to dig out all my winter clothes, and not wanting to get out of bed without some cosy layers. Chilly mornings and days that alternated between sun and fog, a definite sense of winter drawing in – even though, as we all know, that’s not an extreme thing in San Francisco. The forecast promises more heat to come; it also promised rain and that didn’t materialise in the end.
I still feel generally out of sorts: I love my new place, but just wish I was sharing it with my partner as planned. I have moved things around and bought some household things, but there are still a few pieces of furniture that are needed to make it a home. And I still feel the loss of the summer routines, the Instagram sessions and the discussions with the Hebden Bridge sangha.
While I have been doing some teaching, and have been enjoying my sitting, somehow that feels secondary, not just to this personal situation, but the collective breath-holding as the US gets closer to the election, and everything just seems to be getting crazier and crazier. And perhaps also to the sense that when winter does kick in, there will be a certain level of hibernation as the pandemic becomes more virulent again. The time feels liminal; it feels like changes – some for the better, some for the worse – are on their way, and that there is no point trying to settle until then.
And I know that such a standpoint is not how we practise. That every moment, every day – even the unsettled ones, the unwanted ones, even the ones of waiting and hoping – is valuable and worthy of our full attention. I am doing my best to do that and feel nourished in the process.
‘Studying the Buddha Dharma is most difficult to accomplish. Why is that? Even when people have genuinely aroused the mind of awakening, without knowing it, they might fall in with demons, or unaware they might become sick, and their way-seeking mind will be broken, their practice-realization regressing and collapsing. Truly we must sympathize. Students these days are fascinated by the demons of brilliance and imagine it as the enlightenment of the way. Encountering the onset of the disease of fame and fortune, they imagine it as verification of the merit of their practice. These not only damage and destroy a single life or person, but they can also damage and destroy the merits and virtues of good roots from many lives through vast kalpas. This is the saddest thing for students. So-called satori (enlightenment) is very difficult to realize. It cannot be understood by thinking or discrimination, and it cannot be clarified by brilliance or keen wisdom. Considering fascination with this demon as great enlightenment, and clinging to the sickness and its ailments as merits and virtues, how could this not be a mistake?’ (Extensive Record, 513)
At the end of his life, Dogen was keen not to let anyone off the hook – even as he paraphrases parts of his first work, the Fukanzazengi. A salutory reminder before I head into a corporate meditation, thinking I am any good.