Suzuki Roshi

‘Some people, you know, may be envious of bird or cats or dogs who enjoy the warm winter sunshine [laughing] near hot spring. But “return to the nature” in its true sense does not mean to be like animal or bird. If you climb up on the top of the mountain, or, you know, if you come from Jamesburg, perhaps the place you like best will be when you see some of Tassajara mountain. If it is April it is– they are covered with white snow.

If you want to go back to the nature, you should go back to the rocks on the top of the mountain [laughs]. That is much better than to be a bird, or cat, or even a lion. Be a rock. And sit forever, without being moved by rain, or snow, or storm. But weathered by rain and snow, rocks will tell us many stories. You may say that is just a rock. But buddha-nature, in its true sense, reveal itself on weathered ancient rocks on the top of the mountain.

The reason why we wanted to practice zazen, putting strength in our tanden, is to realize what is true practice and what is not.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

I have been trying to work my way through the archive more or less chronologically, but I skipped ahead to December 1967 to be able to listen to this talk with my dharma sister Kim. It is from the first day of the sesshin held at the end of the second practice period at Tassajara (I am trying to resist getting completely immersed in the talks from the first sesshin held in August 1967, as almost all the audio for that one is newly rediscovered). I was interested in this talk as he is very explicit about the hara, or tanden, which is not at all common (using the search form from David Chadwick’s site, there are only three mentions of it – two from this sesshin, and one from a talk at Tassajara two months later), and because he presents sections from Dogen’s Fukanzazengi.

When we were listening to it though, this portion from right at the end of the talk jumped out at me in a way that it hadn’t when I was just reading the transcript. His voice has a kind of still power that makes it the climax of what he is trying to convey. Listen to it if you have the time.

I thought this photo was a good representation of Tassajara mountains covered in snow.

Amanda Gorman

‘I’m a firm believer that often terror is trying to tell us of a force far greater than despair. In this way, I look at fear not as cowardice, but as a call forward, a summons to fight for what we hold dear. And now more than ever, we have every right to be affected, afflicted, affronted. If you’re alive, you’re afraid. If you’re not afraid, then you’re not paying attention. The only thing we have to fear is having no fear itself — having no feeling on behalf of whom and what we’ve lost, whom and what we love…

And yes, I still am terrified every day. Yet fear can be love trying its best in the dark. So do not fear your fear. Own it. Free it. This isn’t a liberation that I or anyone can give you — it’s a power you must look for, learn, love, lead and locate for yourself.’ (from the New York Times)

A Ferry Ride In The Fog

On Friday morning, I was listening to Suzuki Roshi’s Calmness talk, ahead of this morning’s third class in the series. Even though I have listened to it quite a few times already, once again, I heard it fresh (and kind of wished that I could re-write some of the accompanying article I posted for that talk).

‘When you sit you do not feel anything; you just sit. You are in the complete calmness of your mind. But in everyday life, you will find you will be encouraged by the calmness of the zazen — sitting. So actually the value of — you will find the value of Zen in everyday life, rather then when you sit.’

I used this notion for a meditation session I had during the morning. It’s something I talk about often, that meditation can be like having training wheels on a bike, learning to deal, in a safe space, with things that are usually not consequential. During the session, I could hear some music filtering up from my downstairs neighbour, a typical minor irritant, where we can pay close attention to how we respond to the situation in the moment, mentally, physically, or emotionally. And then we go out in the world and try to handle things with the same sense of equanimity and equilibrium; it takes a while to remember that we can do this, but as we continue our practice, we do start to embody that kind of response a little more regularly and consistently.

In my radio days, once you got over the initial adrenaline-fuelled thrill of doing live transmissions, they could often be quite hum-drum. I always say that the job was a good preparation for practice: it was always in the moment; you had to keep paying attention; and once it was done, it was done – there was no taking work home afterwards. When something went wrong, though, that’s when your training came into play, and your ability to focus. I used to tell people I was training, ‘Try to just make one mistake.’ I would see people (including myself), make a slip of some kind, like playing the wrong tape, and then compound it by being flustered. I would try to move on from the first mistake, and get things back to normal as soon as I could.

I have always presumed that flying a plane was rather similar, though as we would say in radio after some catastrophe in the studio, ‘well, no-one died.’ Most of the time, the pilots can maintain a relaxed awareness, and then, when things go awry, they have to call on all their training.

I got an object lesson similar this on Thursday morning. After enjoying a number of spectacular sunsets and gorgeous skyscapes on recent journeys, this time the fog was dense. The ferry was, unusually, running late. Once we were underway I could really see why. Passing under the Bay Bridge, it was barely visible. We made confident progress across the bay, even though there are once again a large number of huge container ships moored here and there. Once we approached the entrance to the Seaplane Lagoon in Alameda though, the boat slowed to crawl. There are several seawalls, with an entry gap that is not huge – and presumably a fairly narrow deep-water channel. In clear day, the approach must be relatively simple for an experienced captain, but when we couldn’t see it even from a few yards away, I appreciated how professional the skipper was being. I hope they were feeling equanimous too.

Naturally I took plenty of photographs to try to capture the mood. We are about to go under the bridge, with barely one footing to be seen.
The seawall starts to become visible.
Approaching the terminal.

André De Shields

‘The ego is a virus, and there is no inoculation against it. However, it does have an opponent that can take it down. And that is the small voice that lives at the core of our being. There is a small voice that lives there. And, by small, I don’t mean ineffectual.’ (from the New Yorker)


‘We usually define or describe ourselves in terms of our sankaras, in other words in terms of our habits. These are usually what are most recognizable about people — you know, ‘such-and-such, he’s into football; such-and-such, they’ve got this tendency to talk very loudly,’ etc. Things like that. We generally define people in terms of their leading habits or qualities — ‘such-and-such is an angry person; such-and-such is a very shy person’ — and we see these things as not really changing.

I want to use an analogy to try to illustrate this business about the sankaras, and it may or may not work for you, but I want to use the analogy of a football team. Let’s, just for argument’s sake, call this football team ‘Manchester United’ (a bit of local colour!)…

…So we talk in terms of a team, or, if you like, in terms of a ‘self’, that somehow seems to have a certain identity that persists through time. The sankaras are each of the individual players. Eleven players — so, just for now, there are eleven sankaras. You’ve probably got a lot more than that… but let’s say there’s eleven.

And we think that there is a ‘core’ to this — but really what is the core to this team? Is it Ryan Giggs? Or it is Roy Keane, the captain? Well… sometimes they don’t play. So, when they don’t play, where is the core of Manchester United? Where has it gone? We still talk in terms of the ‘team’ having this identity. Actually there is only a notional sense of identity; the identity comes from description. There is no identity there. We impose that on the experience of these eleven players, if you like.

Perhaps you could say, ‘Well, what is distinctive about Manchester United is the red shirts.’ But actually, sometimes they play away! They wear blue shirts; even white shirts. So where is Manchester United, when they’re wearing those shirts?

Perhaps it’s the manager? But managers change over time. Even if they stay for quite a long time, they move on. Perhaps it’s the fans? Well, the fans too grow old… die… there are new fans. All of the players that play for the team at the moment will one day no longer play. There will be eleven new players. But we will still talk about Manchester United.

So you can see there is this constant change going on, and it’s not an absolute change — it’s not that one day there is one set of eleven players and the next day there’s a different set of eleven. There is continuity. Players play for several years; a new player comes in; one player drops out; etc. So there is this sense of continuity, and that’s very real, that’s very present. But we need to avoid moving from there to think that because there is that continuity, there is some fixed unchanging Manchester-Unitedness. Okay?

The reason why I’m banging on about this a bit is that we need to understand this business about the sankaras changing over time, and continuity, if we are going to understand the Buddhist idea of karma and the idea of rebirth. We could say that if we did have a core, unchanging self, we couldn’t change, and from a Buddhist point of view we couldn’t gain Nirvana; we couldn’t gain Enlightenment. So actually it is a great boon that we are constantly changing.’ (from Free Buddhist Audio)

To follow on from yesterday’s analogy, in a very English way.

B. Alan Wallace

‘In a well known discourse attributed to the Buddha he declares, “All phenomena are preceded by the mind. When the mind is comprehended, all phenomena are comprehended.” The mind and consciousness itself are therefore the primary subjects of introspective investigation within the Buddhist tradition. Moreover, just as unaided human vision was found to be an inadequate instrument for examining the moon, planets and stars, Buddhists regard the undisciplined mind as an unreliable instrument for examining mental objects, processes, and the nature of consciousness. Drawing from the experience of earlier Indian contemplatives, the Buddha refined techniques for stabilizing and refining the attention and used them in new ways, much as Galileo improved and utilized the telescope for observing the heavens.’ (The Buddhist Tradition of Samatha)


‘Descendants of buddha ancestors, do not study the Agama teachings, the teachings of Brahmans, the methods of making sacrifices, teachings about the pursuit of pleasure, or the teachings of the [extremist] opponents of pursuing pleasure. Save your head from fire, and just study the fists, eyeballs, whisks, sitting cushions, Zen sleeping boards, ancestral minds, and ancestral sayings of the buddhas and ancestors. If it is not the activity of buddha ancestors, do not practice it; if it is not the talk of buddha ancestors, do not say it. Great assembly, do you want to clearly understand the key to this?

After a pause Dogen said: [Practice with] sitting cushions, Zen boards, and Zhaozhou’s tea, not expressing evil through the whole day. The ancient buddhas have studied the true meaning. Sanavasin received transmission and wore Buddha’s monk’s robe.’ (Extensive Record, 380)

I think just not expressing evil through the whole day would be a pretty great place to start.

Dale S. Wright

‘To live wholeheartedly… is to live a life of integrity, the unity of will through which choices, acts, and energies are integrated around a “thought of enlightenment.” When we are unified in this way, we act in accord with ourselves rather than at odds with ourselves. Living wholeheartedly, the feelings and energies that are signified by the “heart” are joined in harmony with the mind and will, such that what we desire aligns with our largest vision of the good. This condition, as we all know from occasional experiences of it, gives rise to an ecstatic form of freedom, a liberation from destructive forces of self-contradiction.’ (The Six Perfections)

I take this to mean (and I can vouch for it in my own life) that when we can stop second-guessing ourselves, we have much more power to move freely – but that does not mean that we run roughshod over everything. The thought of enlightenment is our compass, even if we sometimes go astray.

Koun Franz

‘Dogen never speaks of realization as a one-time thing. You don’t say, Well, I got it. I’m done. You ate breakfast this morning, but it doesn’t mean you’re done eating—in the same way, understanding is not something that you get and then you keep. Not true understanding, anyway. Understanding is something that’s happening all the time. It’s being uncovered all the time. It’s being cultivated all the time. So even if you understood in the previous moment, it doesn’t mean that you understand in this one. And if you understand in this moment, it’s no guarantee that you’ll understand in the next, because understanding is not some abstract thing—it’s a kind of seeing, and we can only see in the present. We can only see what is in front of us, never behind.’ (from Zendohoko)


'When Shishuang met Daowu, he said, "What is the transcendent wisdom that meets the eye?"
Daowu called to an attendant and he responded. Daowu said to him, "Add some clean water to the pitcher."
After a long pause, Daowu said to Shishuang, "What did you just come and ask me?" 
Shishuang started to raise his previous question when Daowu got up and left the room. Shishuang then had a great realization.' (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

I am not surprised Daowu left the room. Shishuang comes along with some hi-faluting question and then doesn't even notice the response that is given. No action replays in these old stories.