Koun Yamada

‘In olden times, Zen practitioners used to go about visiting Zen masters and having mondo [dharma questioning]; this was called angya, or pilgrimage. It was the custom to take along a staff. One day a monk from Baso’s monastery was in the mountains hunting for a branch of a tree to serve as his staff for angya, when he got lost. Eventually he came to a hut where he found an old man who he thought was a woodsman.
The monk asked, “How can I get out of this mountain?”
The old man replied, “Go on following the flow of water.”
And, indeed, by following the stream, the monk could get to the village, but the words of the old man were more than geographical directions. To “go on following the flow of water” is very valuable Zen instruction.
In the practice of Zen we must proceed every day, every moment, quite naturally according to the present situation. All our actions should be as ordinary as the flow of water. To go against the stream is not the way of Zen. When we meet a child, we must become a child. When we meet an old man, we must become an old man. When we are with a senior, we must pay him or her suitable respect. When we are with a junior, we must guide him or her with the utmost kindness. As I have said before, we must use the sword freely, now to kill, now to give life, according to the time, place and circumstances. That is the meaning of the old man’s words, “Go on following the flow of water.”‘ (Commentary on the Gateless Gate)

Katagiri Roshi

‘When you see in the proper way, what do you see? You see the true nature of time. In Japanese we say mujo. Mu is “nothing” and jo is “permanence”, so mujo means “no permanence” or “impermanence”. Seeing impermanence is not to face a kind of nihilism that leads to despair; it is to become yourself as you really are, with joyful open eyes. Thinking in the proper way is not to understand life through your intellect; it is to contemplate deeply how to live every day based on wisdom. When you see the true nature of time and understand how impermanence works in your life, you can use time to cultivate your life and keep up with the tempo of life without feeling despair. That is the basis of a complete human life.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

Shodo Harada

‘When the Buddha spoke from the top of Vulture Peak, he held out a single flower in front of everyone. This was not just any flower – it was the Buddha’s experience, the manifesting of the Buddha’s very essence. Even if it is true that humans are simply another type of animal, as some people so dismissively put it, we are not here to simply live out our lives eating and sleeping. If we simply live and die as the animals do, then our existence as human beings has no significance. To be truly human we must live in a humane and dignified way. We are not alive merely to accumulate things and fulfill our desires. Our life, our mind – how brightly can they shine and illuminate all the we encounter? Zen is the direct realization of the divine light as it exists right here within our bodies. To have the exquisite teachings of the sutras come forth from our very own bodies, expressed in our every word and every action – that is the point. Unless we experience this our Zen is not genuine. With our wonderful human mind and spirit we are not mere animals; we are called to live our lives in the best way possible…
If we view our zazen as something separate and independent from our actual, everyday lives, then it has no meaning whatsoever. In this real world, in our actual living bodies, we must discover to what degree we can refine and develop our creative and inventive potential, and to what extent we can shine forth with a great and brilliant light throughout our lives.’ (The Path to Bodhidharma)

Typing this out on  a showery Monday morning when everything seems quite mundane, I feel energised in the way that being reminded of the value of the teaching often makes me feel. Most of the quotes on this blog are telling us this, in one way or another, whether written a few years ago or many centuries ago; all the great teachers are pointing us to the same wondrous thing, to give our energy to the great matter. I find it inspiring, and I hope that you do too.


‘The eye cannot see itself, but neither can its function be dimmed. The light streams out from the source, pure and white, shining everywhere. The reed flowers intermingle with the snow; the bright moon bathes the autumn. Here you have the energetic opportunity for mutual union. On the path of careful observation, valiantly carry it and apply it well. No place can be other than myself; no place can restrain me. Leap out supreme from the ten thousand forms. Juzhi’s one finger Zen is not exhausted by thirty years of using it. Its subtlety is in its simplicity, which silently, wordlessly secures the purpose at its leisure. Therefore it responds without clutching at things. The Way wanders with the spirits protecting it. This is how the principle is originally. But if suddenly you attach to one thread or fiber, then the guiding mind is blocked and cannot be opened. Where emptiness is empty it contains all of existence, where existence exists it joins the single emptiness. Still I ask, what is this?’ (Cultivating the Empty Field)

Sekkei Harada

‘Please understand that zazen is not a means to attain something – it is the final result. The problem is that while we are already in the middle of the result, we cannot verify it as our own. For that reason, even though we are in the result itself, we search for another result. This is not in accord with the Dharma.Nevertheless the habit of looking for results is brought about by the functioning of the ego-self consciousness. That is why it is necessary to forget this ego-self.’ (The Essence of Zen)

Nyogen Senzaki

‘Some of you coming to this meditation class for the first time may think we are attempting an achievement – advancing toward becoming buddhas. Christians gather at a prayer meeting and believe that their purification is more advanced than it was at their last meeting. Islamists count every bow as a stepping-stone toward Mecca. If our new friends think that we are burning incense and meditating here to accumulate meritorious deeds, the way passengers on San Francisco streetcars pay two cents for each transfer, I appreciate the compliment, but our master of this evening, the great Obaku, will deny it. He calls such an idea “wrong imagination”, and warns of deviating from the right path. Perhaps his Zen is too strong this evening. Let me add some water to it, and offer you another cup.’ (Eloquent Silence)

I have commented before on my appreciation for Nyogen Senzaki’s gentle approach to his audience – in this case studying Obaku. If you do not know his dates, the streetcar fare mentioned should clue you in to how long ago this was.