Kosho Uchiyama

‘In my late twenties, when I read [Dogen’s] Jishozanmai, I decided to leave home and become a monk. I understood that if I lived based only on my thinking, my life would continue to be childish and unenlightened. Since ancient times there have been people who sought the self in its true sense. Unless I wholeheartedly practiced with such a person, one who had truly and completely pursued and clarified the self, I would never be able to understand my true self. When I reached this conclusion, I finally made up my mind to become a monk and practice zen.
In response to my decision, my father said, “You are a critical and argumentative person. It’s no good to follow a mediocre teacher,” and he tried to find a good master for me. Finally he recommended Sawaki Roshi, who was then the officer in charge of instructing monks at Sojiji. He told me to go there, and, if I thought Sawaki Roshi was a good teacher, to ask about being his disciple.
This was the first time I encountered a person who spoke clearly about the self for which I had been searching. Although I had listened to many lectures on Buddhism and Christianity, those talks had nothing to do with the self. Sawaki Roshi talked about the self, starting only from the self. I eagerly took notes. When I went home, I summarized his teachings according to my notes:

1. The Buddhadharma teaches that this life is our true and final refuge.
2. To practice zazen is to become the transparent self.
3. To practice zazen is the self selfing the self by the self.
4. To pratice zazen is to become the self that is connected with the universe.
5. Zazen is good for nothing.

Even though I wrote these before becoming a monk, when I knew nothing about zazen but had only heard Sawaki Roshi’s lectures for the first time, I think they’re a pretty good summary; I surprised myself. Although I had tentatively made up my mind to become a monnk, part of me didn’t really want to. I didn’t know what kind of physical or mental experiences I would have to go through as a monk, so deep in my mind I wanted to avoid it. Yet, after hearing Sawaki Roshi’s teaching, I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I’d reached the point where I felt that if I wanted to live based on the truth of the self, I couldn’t escape. So I was ordained.’ (The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo)

As I was leafing through this book to find some suitable passages, my eyes alighted on the five-point list. I was tempted to copy just those five points; it certainly would have been faster to type out. But I thought that the context for the list was fascinating as well, as a great story of how people come to practice: a pull that is somehow greater than ourselves and allows a trust that those who have come before and done the work – the work that a part of us wants to avoid and yet cannot without suffering a loss of integrity.

I read point two as a paraphrase of Dogen’s ‘dropping off body and mind’; certainly in my moments of lucidity, it seems that the self becomes thinner, more transparent, less of a hindrance. The third point also seems to echo Dogen, in this case jijuyu zanmai, and if that feels too much to get your head around, it’s okay just to stay with the fourth and fifth points.



It is kind speech to speak to sentient beings as you would to a baby…. If kind speech is offered, little by little, kind speech expands… Know that kind speech arises from kind heart, and kind heart from the seeds of compassionate heart. Ponder the fact that kind speech is not just praising the merit of others; it has the power to turn the destiny of the nation.’ (Shobogenzo Bodaisatta Shi Shoho)

In my recent dharma talk at Zen Center, I brought in Dogen’s Bodhisattva’s Four Methods of Guidance towards the end of the talk, as I felt it is a good example of some concrete ways to help people through the ways you think and act towards them, and seemed to fit in with the themes from Sharon Salzberg’s Real Love that made up the bulk of the talk. As I said in relation to the above quote, how much do we need to hear this as a nation at the moment.

I am giving another talk on Monday 22nd at the Dharma Eye group in San Rafael; I expect to offer a remix of the Zen Center talk, and I think I will bring Dogen front and centre this time and see where that takes me. Sometimes I wonder about offering an apology for the amount of Dogen on this site; mostly I know that his teachings are the crux of our practice, and hopefully the pieces I choose can make some of the denser work more accessible.

Nyogen Senzaki

‘This mind is Buddha and no other, but one who clings to words and postulates an idea of it is far away from the Path. If you meditate on emptiness, you can never empty your mind. If you aim to enter samadhi, you will never reach it.’ (Eloquent Silence)

I always find reading Senzaki is like a fresh breeze blowing through the room.

Byakuren Judith Ragir

‘What needs to be renounced as we enter a spiritual path? In the West, Buddhist practice is often an odd combination of monastic visits and householder lives. When I was ordained, I was already married and had two children. I did not leave my family, but I learned to practice with my story-filled life by transforming the basis of operation in my mind. I have had to work with my egocentricity; my attachments and clinging; and my greed, anger, and delusion right in the middle of the mess of household life and an urban zendo. After forty years of practice, I am still practicing home-leaving within the confines of a home, as Yasodhara did. I take heart from a the story of a Tibetan teacher’s mother who got enlightened, as she tells it, by “practicing in the gaps” of her everyday life. Or as my root teacher, Katagiri Roshi, would encourage us by saying, “In every moment, merge subject and object into the very activity that is arising.”‘ (The Hidden Lamp)

When I lived at Tassajara, there would almost always be some women there who had waited until their children were grown before committing themselves to intensive monastic training. As Byakuren points out, the conditions of life at home are also deep opportunities for practice: the personal issues that arise at home are no different from those that arise at the monastery, it’s just that when you live at the monastery, there is usually more time to reflect and absorb what is going on.





‘There is a simple way to become a buddha: When you refrain from unwholesome actions, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate toward all sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no thoughts or worries, you will be called a buddha. Seek nothing else.’ (Shobogenzo Shoji)

I may have posted this before, but the utter simplicity can come and smack us in the face every time, in any case. Simple, but not easy, as they say (and as I probably said before)….