‘Logically we can understand that, without suffering, there would be no need for the compassion, wisdom, and skillful means of bodhisattva practice. This is a difficult teaching. It requires us to stay and investigate that which is troublesome and inconvenient in our world. Yet, it is only under these circumstances that our own buddhanature can bloom and bring forth the full flowering of realization. Over and over again, we renew our bodhisattva vow in the midst of this samsaric life. Who else can enact this practice but each of us?’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘In my years as a retreatant and in the public sphere, I’ve learned much about how the ego–the illusion of a self that is separate from life–operates. The revealing of the ego in action – insights about how it functions- has a particular taste, a particular feel. Freedom has a flavor.
I’ve come to understand how collective systems arising out of the delusion that “we are separate” also have the same resonance as the personal delusion”/ am separate.” The workings of the ego, which we might think of as operating on a personal level, and the workings of collective conditioning have the same taste. I’ve had moments of experiencing how and where delusion–personal or collective-manifests and ripples through the mind and body in the same way, creating the same feel. And seeing through distortion, whether we are seeing through personal or collective delusion, has its own same feel. The feel of freedom.’ (The Heart Of Who We Are)
I’ve know Caverly for almost ten years through the Gen X Teachers’ Group, and I picked her her new book when I went to hear her speak at Zen Center recently. I very much appreciated her approach in the talk, and although I have only just started the book – and am trying to read the other books I also bought that day – I know I am going to find it rich and rewarding.
‘Student: Docho Roshi, what question can you ask a sweet potato?
Suzuki Roshi: A sweet potato? Many question [laughter]. May I eat you? [Laughs, laughter.]’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
The world before my eyes is wan and wasted, just like me.
The earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered.
No spring breeze even at this late date,
Just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut.
‘It is often asked how someone who holds on to nothing can understand the pain in the world. Or how one who has nothing in his or her mind can posibly teach. That is only a concept of something not intellectually understandable; that state of holding on to nothing has to be experienced. We see pain, and with goodwill we want to help. We can’t sit by and watch it happen. When we have no personal ideas and no places in which we’re caught, we are open to another’s experience. Through all of our senses we receive the pain of all people. Because our unencumbered perception does not add on ideas about the pain, we receive everything just as it is.’ (Not One Single Thing)
‘Hearing the term “buddha nature,” many students mistakenly regard it as the self explained by Shrenika, a teacher outside the way. They think this because they have not met a true person, the true self, a true teacher, They mistakenly regard the conscious mind, which is caused by the movement of air and fire, as the awareness and understanding of buddha nature. But who says that buddha nature has awareness or understanding? Even though those who are aware or understand are buddhas, buddha nature is neither awareness nor understanding.
Furthermore, the buddhas awareness, of which they speak, is not the same awareness they mistakenly regard as awareness. The movement of air and fire is not the cause of buddha’s awareness. It is just that the awareness is one or two buddha faces, ancestor faces.
A number of ancient masters and early sages went to India and returned to China to guide humans and devas. They have been as common as rice, flax, bamboo, and reeds from the time of the Han and Tang dynasties until the time of the present Song Dynasty. Many of them regard the movement of air and fire as the awareness of buddha nature.
What a pity! They make this kind of mistake because their study of the way is coarse.’ (Shobogenzo Bussho)
We were studying this passage in the Dogen study group this week. There was much talk of the elemental understanding of ‘air and fire’ at that time and in that culture (and I regrettably misquoted its appearance in the Gyojikihan, the Standard Observances). I was also thinking of the passage in the Mountains and Waters Sutra, which, equally regrettably, I do not seem to have posted here, where Dogen lists different ways you can consider a mountain, before concluding along the lines of “it is not just this.” This is how Dogen encourages continual investigation, and the ability to reside peacefully in the awareness that things are always beyond our conceptual boxes and our wish to put everything in a conceptual box. As he says elsewhere, it’s not that this is wrong, but it is not the only story.
‘Everyone who has witnessed the growth process of a child from the moment of birth on sees clearly that before language is known, before the identity of caretakers is recognized, babies respond to affectionate care. Usually they respond with sounds or looks of pleasure. As they grow older they respond to affectionate care by giving affection, cooing at the sight of a welcomed caretaker. Affection is only one ingredient of love. To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication. Learning faulty definitions of love when we are quite young makes it difficult to be loving as we grow older. We start out committed to the right path but go in the wrong direction. Most of us learn early on to think of love as a feeling. When we feel deeply drawn to someone, we cathect with them; that is, we invest feelings or emotion in them. That process of investment wherein a loved one becomes important to us is called “cathexis.” In his book [Scott] Peck rightly emphasizes that most of us “confuse cathecting with loving.” (All About Love)
I picked this up from the Zen Center bookstore when I went down recently – along with a couple of other books I hope to be excerpting soon. I feel like I have read a few pieces from it before, but setting out from the start, I could tell there was going to be a lot to sit with. When I mentioned it to a practitioner with whom I have discussed trauma and resilience, they responded that this book had helped them clarify so much of their own experience, and they were surprised I hadn’t remembered them telling me so…
At a certain point, I lost track of just how many rain storms have passed through San Francisco in recent weeks. Certainly I was tracking the forecast much more regularly than usual, to see when the rain would come next, and still finding that it was not completely accurate. I was lucky ahead of the rain on a couple of my commutes; I could see the clouds coming, and having arrived could hear the rain lashing outside – even hail and thunder at one stage, which is very unusual for this area. Other times I gave upon the idea of riding or going out for more than food shopping when it rained all day.
Thankfully, the rain does seem to have moved on, and we can start clearing up the damage and hope that the floods begin to subside. Once again. San Francisco is not the epicentre of all of this, but we see it happening all around us. A friend who had to head into Tassajara – slightly delayed from having caught Covid – was being asked to walk four miles of the road due to various landslides. They have not reappeared in the city, so I assume they made it in safely. I felt safe to schedule a hike, somewhat less gruelling than that, for Sunday, hoping for clear skies still.
‘A surprisingly high percentage of our happiness and woe is dependent on the viewpoints through which we interpret our experience, views which are often not only unexamined, but also unrecognized. Operating invisibly, they become the source of further interpretations, conclusions and judgments we make about our experience, our selves, and others. When these underlying foundational views are unrecognized they can cast an aura of truth over these secondary interpretations, and therefore support a tendency to believe them unquestioningly.
An important function of insight retreats is cultivating adequate calm and clarity to discover these underlying viewpoints influencing us, and to see them for what they are–provisional, conditional, and distinct from direct experience. This in turn helps us to hold all views lightly, without being under their sway. As the mind becomes calmer it becomes easier to discern which of our viewpoints are unnecessary and which are useful, which lead to distress and which lead to wellbeing, which interfere with the path of practice and which support it.
Meditating on retreat is an effective means to shed unnecessary and/or detrimental views. As the mind quiets, we can discover an ease and peace not ruffled by interpretations that keep us at a distance from the immediacy of our experience. We can even learn that it is useful to let go of active involvement with beneficial views when these are not needed. A mind not active with views gives us access to insights and wellbeing often inaccessible in daily life.’ (from the Insight Retreat Center website)
‘I was working very hard to do zazen, but I realized that I was just doing shuzen (*). Effort is necessary, but somehow it’s a different kind of effort. One day I had a thought: what about the Buddha under the bodhi tree? When Buddha first sat under the bodhi tree, there was no manual. We have to think about what brought him to the bodhi tree. What did he do before that? According to legend, there was an episode right after he left the palace where he tried yogic meditation under a master. He learned the technique and quickly attained the goal of stopping the mind, but it wasn’t what he was looking for. Then he shifted his practice to the body, and did ascetic practice. He did it very thoroughly, almost dying, but he realized this was not the right way to nirvana. He did all the ready-made methods available in those days, learning them from the teachers, but he was not satisfied with those things and he didn’t solve his fundamental questions. He had nothing any more.
When he sat down under the tree, he did something very new, not based on a method or manual – something more spontaneous, more natural. By trial and error, he gradually learned how to sit in a stable way by paying attention to how he felt in the sitting posture. He learned how to be with the body and mind, without doing anything artificial or intentional. He gave up and surrendered, and that’s the origin of our zazen. There’s a big difference between what he did before and what he did under the bodhi tree. He tried all the shuzen types of practice and saw their futility; from this, zazen emerged.’ (Polishing A Tile)