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.

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.

Brad Warner

Nishijima Roshi used to say that every philosophy but one fell into either the category of materialism or the category of idealism. Buddhism, he said, was the only exception. This is why the Buddhist worldview is so hard to understand. Whenever we encounter a philosophy that denies the materialistic view, we tend to think of it as idealistic. It’s almost impossible not to do so.

In fact, in terms of how our thinking works it may actually be impossible to hold a worldview that is neither materialistic nor idealistic in our thoughts. Thought insists on seeing things one way or another. It can’t contain contradictory viewpoints. And yet reality itself is not limited to the categories our thoughts insist upon. 

This is why Nishijima Roshi called Buddhism a “philosophy of action.” It is a philosophy that you experience in real action in the present moment. This is why Dogen used deliberate contradictions as a way of pointing out the limitations of language and thought to ever fully explain reality.’ (from Hardcore Zen)

I don’t feel I need to get too philosophical about this, but I agree with the overall premise here, and I think that Dogen might boil it down to ‘reality itself is not limited.’

Hakuin

‘The ocean of true reality is boundless and profoundly deep. The Buddha Way is immeasurably vast. Some priests do nothing but seek fame and success until their dying day, never showing the slightest interest in the path of Zen or the Buddha’s Dharma. Others become enthralled in literary pursuits or become addicted to sake or women, oblivious of the hell fires flaming up under their very noses. Some, relying on insignificant bits of knowledge they pick up, shamelessly try to deny the law of cause and effect, though woefully lacking any grasp of its working. Some find ways to attract large numbers of people to their temples, believing to the end of their days that this is proof of a successful teaching career.’ (Beating The Cloth Drum)

I haven’t picked up this book in a while, but it happens that I was writing a Patreon post, and wanted to see if I had written anything about the traditional way of tangaryo when I was writing the Ino’s Blog. It was not too surprising that I had, and, as I often find, a little meander down memory lane from ten or more years ago made me smile. My practice is less traditional these days than it was when I was a temple officer at San Francisco Zen Center, and while I am sure that Hakuin would not stint in his criticism of what I am doing now, I would at least not claim to be seeking fame or success.

Kodo Sawaki

‘Illusion and awakening do not have different natures. We must grasp the origin of that which so completely blinds our self that we see dualism where none exists. We must become conscious within our most profound depths that our body, as it is, is one with our mind and that it is identical with the essence of the universe.’ (Commentary on the Song of Awakening)

I was starting to get embarrassed that I have not finished a book of any kind since the pandemic started, so I resolved to put my laptop away yesterday afternoon and pick up this book again. While I find some of Sawaki Roshi’s idiosyncracies a little grating, there are many gems as he illuminates the wonderful Shodoka.

Walking The Dog

Right now in San Francisco, we are between a heatwave and an atmospheric river – between one of those warm, sunny spells in the middle of winter that make me glad I live in California, and storms which will bring much needed rain to the area for the rest of the week. It also feels like we are between the optimism of the new administration taking its place, and the sinking realisation that the vaccination rollout is not necessarily going to mean the end of our dealings with the pandemic.

Since I moved in September, I have been glad to have a sweet and cosy apartment to hunker down in, and also especially grateful to be co-habiting with my partner, to be able to devote energy to building our lives together, and to have that intimate human connection that many have been suffering the lack of this past year. I feel very lucky in this regard. And since the turn of the year I have been glad to be able to offer a dharma talk at Zen Center, and to be able to start a new class for Within Meditation (each of the three Wednesdays so far has seen history being made, with insurrection followed by impeachment followed by inauguration). At the same time, the precarity of livelihood and health means that I don’t take any of this for granted.

In the middle of all these aspects of my life, one of my new routines is taking Collin the dog out for a walk several times a day, with my partner, or by myself. He is elderly, so we don’t usually cover more than half-a-dozen blocks. There are several variations of route around where we live, obviously, and I enjoy seeing the various houses, the distant city landmarks, the sky and the clouds, the different sidewalk plantings, which offer blossoms even in the middle of winter. And I enjoy watching Colling navigate in his way; he seems used to his new city life, and like any dog, relishes following his nose for traces of the other dogs we see and meet around the neighbourhood. I am not running so many errands on my bike these days, so the walk often serves as a valuable screen break during a day of working from home, gentle exercise, and the opportunity to pay close attention to my surroundings each time, however familiar and mundane they may appear to be.

Collin is always interested in what goes on in the side alleys beside nearby houses

Muriel Daw

‘I once heard a roshi give an ‘as-if’ explanation of Rinzai Zen methods. He said that when one becomes completely discontented with being in the suffering world of Samsara and doing things that seem worthless – what we might call ‘the divine discontent’ – it feels as though the whole structure of relativity surrounds one; and there arises a longing to break completely out of the whole thing and see reality for ourselves. The structure surrounds and traps us as though we were living in a prison. It is like being in a greenhouse made of frosted glass, and in meditation we attack it. Some people start breathing and rubbing at the frosting until they can see through a large patch, but it is dim and smeared. Others start scratching away with a fingernail until they get a bright peep-hole; but although sharply clear, it is very tiny. We must try to shatter the whole thing and find that “Nothing exists except pure radiant mind.”‘ (from the Middle Way)

A comment from Jerry, a long-time Zen Center acquaintance, about having sat a sesshin in London in 1972 sent me on a search for more details. One of the fruits of the search was finding a publication from the Buddhist Society – the source spring for most of Buddhist activity in the UK – and reading a fascinating account of Muriel Daw undertaking traditional monastic training with Soen Nakagawa. Look out for other excerpts coming along.

Rosen Takashina

‘What is called Zazen means to live at peace in the true basis of the universe, which is stillness.  Movement is a secondary attribution:  stillness is the real condition.  Out of stillness comes all activity.’

I will be saying a few words about zazen, and then sitting still, at 6pm this evening, in my regular class for Within Meditation.

Guling Shenzan

‘Master Guling Shenzan returned to his home temple after years of practice. When he returned, his master said, “I have had no word from you for a long time. What have you been doing out there all his time?”
“I haven’t been practicing at all,” Master Guling replied, “I’ve only been walking here and there.”‘ (Quoted in Unfathomable Depths)

Without wishing to give away the plot, it may be that Master Guling is hiding his light under a bushel, though it takes his master a little while to figure that out.