Lama Rod Owens

‘When I speak of trust and confidence, I am talking about taking refuge in my basic experience of myself. I trust that I have the ability to experience and feel. I trust that I have the ability to empathize. I trust my ability to change. I trust my ability to embody agency. I trust that I can discern the positive and constructive things the world can offer me as feedback that can help me grow through my suffering. I also trust that I can discern through the bullshit what the world is trying to tell me about myself that has nothing to do with my benefit. This trust in myself doesn’t mean that I’m okay all the time, but it does mean that when I am not okay, I can let myself be not okay and I can take care of that not-okayness. This trust is built upon a real acceptance of myself that is supported by intense gratitude. I have to let myself be sick in order to have the space to start working towards being well.’ (Love and Rage)

I read this passage with my student group last Tuesday evening, and thought it notable and worth quoting here. As I type it up, I think of how it reflects upon those who took part in the insurrection last Wednesday, and one of the phrases I saw circulating on social media came to mind – that some men would rather storm the Capitol than go to therapy. Perhaps it just boils down to discernment and empathy.

Sojun

I was sad to hear of Sojun Mel Weitsman’s passing, though not entirely surprised considering his advanced age. Djinn spoke lovingly of his presence in her dharma talk on Saturday, and I echo her sentiments; even though I didn’t spend much time around him, his presence was always warm and benign, and we were always fully aware of his role at San Francisco Zen Center, and Berkeley Zen Center going back more than fifty years. And, as he always seemed happy to recount to later generations, he had had a varied and interesting life before he got involved in the practice with Suzuki Roshi – if you get a chance to find one of his way-seeking mind talks in the archives, they are worth listening to.

I also think of the time I spent as shuso at Tassajara in 2012. Sojun came, as he often did, to spend some of the practice period as a visiting teacher, allowing Myogen Steve Stücky to go up to the city for meetings. I also was able to read the old shuso logs; his shuso practice period at Tassajara coincided with the arrival of Tatsugami Roshi from Japan, which, as he observed wryly through the pages, marked the transition from Tassajara being a kind of spirited adventure, with a macrobiotic, communal vibe, to being a more traditional zen training monastery.

It always feels like an incredible privilege to have spent so much time around such epochal figures in the establishment of zen in the west, and perhaps the first of these photos gives a flavour of what that sometimes looked like in day-to-day life at Zen Center.

I remember this occasion being around the 50th Anniversary celebrations for Zen Center. Five of the surviving abbots and abbesses were interviewed (I thought that Djinn had done it, but she doesn’t think so), and I rather flippantly refered to this image as an attempt on the world record for number of abbots on a single couch. Myogen Steve, Zenkei Blanche Hartman and Sojun have now all died; Eijun Linda Cutts and Kiku Christina Lehnherr are happily still teaching
A very typical picture of Sojun in the Tassajara shop, beautifully crafting a kotsu – from my shuso practice period

At the end of an earlier practice period at Tassajara – shuso ceremony day, in 2006.
Possibly the last time Sojun spent significant time at Tassajara, when Lucy was shuso – this was the shuso dinner place setting.

A happy picture from a sad occasion – after Myogen Steve’s funeral at Green Gulch.

Anzan Daiko

Eyes shut,
mouth open.
Eyes open,
mouth shut,

Eyes and mouth
open and open.
They say,

“Shivering of plum blossoms
on black branch
shakes loose spring
in bright snow.”

Roxane Gay

‘In the coming weeks, we’ll undoubtedly hear the argument that now is the time for centrism and compromise and bipartisan efforts. That argument is wrong. There is no compromise with politicians who amass power, hoard it, and refuse to relinquish it when the democratic process does not work in their favor. There is no compromise with politicians who create a set of conditions that allow a coup attempt to take place, resulting in four deaths, countless injuries, and irreparable damage to the country both domestically and internationally. These people do not care about working with their colleagues on the other side of the proverbial aisle. They have an agenda, and whenever they are in power, they execute that agenda with precision and discipline. And they do so unapologetically.

It’s time for Democrats to use their power in the same way and legislate without worrying about how Republican voters or politicians will respond. Cancel student loan debt. Pass another voting rights act that enfranchises as many Americans as possible. Create a true path to citizenship for undocumented Americans. Implement a $15 minimum hourly wage. Enact “Medicare for all.” Realistically, only so much is possible with a slender majority in the Senate, but the opportunity to make the most of the next two years is there.

With the power they hold, Democrats can try to make this country a more equitable and generous place rather than one where the interests of the very wealthy and powerful are the priority.’ (from the New York Times)

On Wednesday I had almost idly tuned in to live coverage of the debate from the Senate over certifying the electoral count; I had been intending to write some scripts for Core, and was procrastinating a little. As the scene turned from debate to mob riot, I stayed glued to updates through the afternoon. All at the same time that the two senate run-offs in Georgia were won by the Democratic candidates, and the US had its deadliest day of the pandemic. Maybe the fever has broken now, a little. I heartily endorse, as I often do, everything that Professor Gay proposes. This article, on words and deeds and ‘who we are’ was also illuminating.

Ruth King

‘At the core of racial suffering is denial about our belonging—that is, our kinship and our membership in each other’s lives. The separation inherent in the entrenched patterns of racial suffering is not just a division of the races. The consciousness—or unconsciousness—that supports racial suffering cuts people out of our hearts, then has us try to live as if “cutting” does not hurt. We have come to accept this dismemberment as normal and move about our lives in search of spiritual freedom and contentment, as if we are not bleeding from the wounds of separation. It’s as if we were orphans in search of our family, not realizing that they are “the other”—the ones we despise, don’t see, or think we know. We have convinced ourselves that we can live with missing body parts—with some folks and without others—and still be whole, happy, and peaceful. But the reality is that we live in a state of pervasive unsatisfactoriness and confusion, not able to see or touch a deep sense of belonging, nor put language to it. We work harder at belonging because we only make use of a fraction of our wholeness and overcompensate with what remains: righteousness or avoidance that masks fear. We waste energy that our communities need to heal and transform. In these moments of dismemberment, we have forgotten that all of our parts matter.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Norman Fischer

‘Each of the six perfections is suffused with the perfection of understanding, which sees the truth of the empty nature of all things. Naturally our discussion of simple ethical conduct would end with mystery and emptiness. Just as tthere is in reality no giver, no gift, and not recipient, so there is also no hurting, no one to hurt, no one to be hurt. There is no ethical conduct.

Saying this may sound scary, as if anything goes and, once we appreciate emptiness, we can go ahead and commit as many sins as we want. But this isn’t the case. Seeing that there are no actual persons, that being is the flow of love, makes us much more passionate about doing good and not doing harm. We’re not trying to be righteous, we’re not acting out of fear; we simply act in accord with the way things are. There’s no other way.’ (The World Could Be Otherwise)

Another clear reminder (you can find them peppered throughout the blog over the years) that emptiness does not equate to nihilism.

Suzuki Roshi

‘I already started, you know, to explain the direct experience… experience of Zen, in our… in the… a way of understanding of the original teaching. But the purpose of my lecture today is not to talk about our fundamental teachings. But just to explain how to sit.

Now, we have crossed our legs and to… we understood how to keep our spines straight. Now we have to pull our necks… neck, like this – so that your spine could be straight.. In this case, and your tongue should be on your upper jaw and your… your upper… your teeth support with each other.

And your hands form cosmic mudra. It should not be like this or like that. Here you have one line with your, you know– what do you call it? Joint? [Answered]. You have joint here, and two joints makes straight line. Then there you have perfect mudra. And your both thumbs support with each other. Not don’t press like this, or don’t be loose, like this. It should be just support with each other, as if you have a sheet of paper in-between. 

And if you, you know … there’s some sparkle between first electricity and [laughs] … mine has electricity between here. You know, it is not like this. If it is like this, there will be no sparkle [Answered]. Spark, excuse me. No spark. If it is like this, you will not have no spark, either [laughs]. It should be like this.

Student (Richard Baker): but they actually touch?

SR: Yeah, touch??. Actually touch, with each other. It should be supported with each other.

This is very true in your everyday life, you know, you should be observant (?) in what you do, you know? But you should not be too much attached to it. This is, you know, the secret of the way of life. You should not be indifferent like this. And you should not be too much attached to your everyday activity, or whatever you see or you do. Just, you know, to have interdependence with each other. This is perfect relationship, and you have this relationship between your thumbs. And this is very true to what you hear, or to what you see, in sitting.’ (from the Shunryu Suzuki Archives)

Some wonderful zazen instruction from the early days of practice at Tassajara. I will be offering an instruction of my own for Within Meditation this evening at 6pm PST, and I will certainly be quoting some of Suzuki Roshi’s words on zazen.

Gudo Nishijima

‘Trying to obey the precepts is a hopeless task. The harder we try the more difficult it becomes. Gautama Buddha, Master Dogen, and the great patriarchs all gave up trying to obey the precepts. This sounds strange but it is true. They found they could not obey the precepts by their conscious efforts so they worked on the problem from another angle. They found that when they practiced Zazen every day their lives became simple and clear. They found in fact that they could not disobey the precepts.

In our life we must make our decisions moment by moment. They are instantaneous: they are dependent on the condition of our body and mind at the moment. Therefore when our body and mind are balanced and composed, our action reflects our composure. When we are `right’, our actions will also be right. So the only way to obey the precepts is to change our body and mind through the practice of Zazen. When we practice Zazen we resume our original nature – our Buddha-nature. We find ourselves in harmony with the Universe at every moment. In such a state it is impossible for us to break the precepts. When we practice Zazen we become persons who cannot disobey the precepts.’ (from a talk on the Precepts)

This is one of those expressions that needs careful attention paying to it, or else someone can come away thinking, oh, you can’t break the precepts, so that means you can do anything. Far from it.

Touzi Datong

‘A monk asked, “What about when the golden manacles are not open?
Touzi said, “They are open.”‘ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

Why would you think they are not?

Gesshu Soko

Under the trees,
welcoming spring.
Things take care of themselves.

A monk looks weird
to the common folk.

The Teaching of this New Year
is not outside the mind.

Filling the eye,
blue, blue mountains
in all directions.