Katagiri Roshi

‘Constantly try to realize the depth of human life. Accept the fact that whatever you do, wherever you live, under all circumstances, you have a chance to realize the truth. With sincerity, try to realize the ultimate nature of your actions: bowing, studying, talking, or whatever it is that you do. When you bow in gassho, just do gassho through and through. If you really do this, you can touch the ultimate truth. Then through gassho you learn something. By the thoroughgoing practice of gassho you return to the truth, and simultaneously gassho rebounds in the form of your human life. Maybe you don’t understand this now, but that gassho helps people and deepens and enhances your life.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

This expresses the essence of temple practice for me: you get a chance to live in circumstances where there is the space and the understanding to try this out. As Katagiri mentions elsewhere, sometimes you start by needing to know why; why do we have to bow, what is the purpose, the significance of this action, of this form, of this guideline? But, by gently allowing you to continue doing it when it is the moment to do it, temple life allows the question to melt away and be replaced by attentive action. And this attentive action does help people, and that help also reflects back to you – this is what Dogen called jijuyu zanmai. The opportunity is not limited to temple actions – how can you make this happen in your life actions today?

Avatamsaka Sutra

‘When great enlightening beings practice dedication in this way, they do not become attached to actions, to consequences, to the body, to objects, to lands, to places, to sentient beings, to the nonexistence of sentient beings, to all things, or to the nonexistence of all things. When great enlightening beings make dedication in this way, they distribute these roots of goodness throughout the world, that all sentient beings may fully develop buddha-knowledge, attain pure minds with clear, comprehensive wisdom, their inner minds silent and serene, unmoved by external objects, as they extend and develop the family of Buddhas of past present and future.’

I am very glad that I live in a house where I can come home and find a copy of the Avatamsaka Sutra on the dining table*. I confess I have not done more than dip a toe into it occasionally; I would  make it my commute read, but it is a heavy tome (the above quote is from page 634 of approximately 1500 pages). At Zen Center over the years, a number of dedicated people have led reading and chanting sessions – Jerome, Greg and Kodo come to mind right away. It is one of the more esoteric teachings in the way it presents a multi-dimensional interconnected universe, but a paragraph like this one stand easily next to Hongzhi, Ta Hui or Dogen.


*It subsequently turned out that it was not the roommate whose book it was that had taken it out, but the other one, who on this occasion had been more interested in the bulk of the book than the content, and had used it to prop up a mirror to get better lighting at the south-facing back of the house. Self-illumination takes many forms, I suppose.


‘Although empty of desires, with deliberations cut off, transcendent comprehension is not all sealed up. Perfect bright understanding is carefree amid ten thousand images and cannot be confused. Within each dust mote is vast abundance. ‘ (Cultivating the Empty Field)


‘This mountain monk has not lectured for the sake of the assembly for a long time. Why is this? Every moment the Buddha hall, the monks’ hall, the valley streams, and the pine and bamboo endlessly speak on my behalf, fully for the sake of all people. Have you all heard it or not? If you say you heard it, what did you hear? If you say that you have not heard it, you do not keep the five precepts.’ (Extensive Record, discourse 49)

Sharon Salzberg

‘Desire – grasping, clinging, greed, attachment – is a state of mind that defines what we think we need in order to be happy. We project all of our hopes and dreams of fulfillment onto some object of our attention. This may be a certain activity or outcome, a particular thing or person. Deluded by our temporary enchantment, we view the world with tunnel vision. That object, and that alone, will make us happy. Who has not been greatly infatuated with some idea or some person, only to look again two months later, six months later, a year later, and think, “What was that all about?” (Lovingkindness)

I would only add that not only do we all do it, but we all do it all the time.

Lama Rod Owens

‘The Heart Sutra tells us that form is emptiness and emptiness is form; if that’s true, then our practice is to try to recognize the integration of form and emptiness, and to let ourselves sit in the utter discomfort of that. From this discomfort emerges a greater capacity to hold space for contradictions. Ultimately, we are not these identities, which is awesome. But relatively, we are, and that’s awesome too! Privileging one over the other is not the practice here. The practice is to bridge the relative truth of I am with the ultimate truth of I am not, to hold them together while exploring the tendency to want to bury ourselves in one extreme. This practice can be deeply unsettling, but if we can hold the ultimate truth together with our relative truth, then space opens up within our identity locations, and we can recognize them without being firmly planted. For example, for me to identify as Black is to first recognize what it has meant to be conditioned as a Black body; at the same time, I see that ultimately I am not Black but still conditioned to perform and to relate to the Black cultural conditioning.’ (Taken from Lion’s Roar website)

In my teaching and studying, I spend a lot of time grappling with the co-existence of form and emptiness, or the harmony of difference and equality. With so much current talk about identity politics, it is great to read a cogent teaching piece on how this looks from a dharma perspective.

I have also been wanting to post a link to this since I read it; I go to the Establishment regularly to learn views that are different to my own, and found this a helpful exercise. I said yes to several questions.