‘One day Master Isan Reiyu was asked by a monk, “What is the truth?” Master Isan said, “Not to have an intentional idea is the truth.” The monk said, “I cannot understand your words.” Master Isan said, “It is good to know there is something that cannot be understood.” The monk said, “In what state […]

Tetsugen Bernie Glassman

I was sad to read that Tetsugen Bernie Glassman had died. His role in the expansion of American zen, especially into the realms of social action, was of great importance, and will outlive him. I was reminded of that recently when I re-read Instructions to the Cook, with its mix of the practical and the traditional. He […]


‘Shoushan said to the assembly, “If you attain at the first phrase, you will be teacher of buddhas and patriarchs. If you attain at the second phrase, you will be teacher of humans and gods. If you attain at the third phrase, you cannot even save yourself.” A monk asked, “At which phrase did you […]


‘Enclosing the universe in the heavens, judging grains and ounces at a glance, not involved in the conditions of spring – how do you attain this?’ He answered himself, ‘One arrow smashes three barriers.’ (quoted in The Book of Serenity) This refers back to Baizhang’s view.

The Fire of No-Self

‘Once, while Lingyou was acting as attendant to Baizhang… Baizhang said to him, “Stick a poker in the fire and see if there is any fire left in it.” Lingyou did so and said, “There’s no fire left.” Baizhang then took the poker himself and, sticking it deep into the stove, pulled out some hot […]


Ruiyan asked Yantou, “What is the fundamental constant principle?” Yantou said, “Moving.” Ruiyan said, “When moving, what then?” Yantou said, “You don’t see the fundamental constant principle.” Ruiyan stood there thinking. Yantou said, “If you agree, you are not yet free of sense and matter; if you don’t agree, you’ll be forever sunk in birth […]


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) And remember, each has […]