Tara Brach

‘The starting place of all healing is embracing even the most painful and shameful parts of our inner experience. Compassion for ourselves naturally leads to caring about others and eventually unfolds into an unconditional and inclusive love for life we never imagined possible.’ (Trusting the Gold)

Sometimes these quotes seem to make very difficult things sound easier than they are, but the fundamental point stands.

Suzuki Roshi

‘Whatever you do, that is actually our true practice. But you are pleased with the limited pleasure of the practice, and you do not know the boundless meaning of our everyday life. And we always complain with what you have to do, or with what you have done, or what you should do. So you are always forced [into] something in your every day life. You feel as if you are living in some certain framework. If you come to Tassajara, you should observe our way. But when you are — you do not realize the true meaning of your life, a rule is just a kind of framework in which you are put.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

I am giving the talk at Zen Center this evening – in person! – which I am very excited about, obviously. There will certainly be some Suzuki Roshi quotes in there, though perhaps not this one. If you are anywhere near, it would be lovely to have you there.

Katagiri Roshi

‘This life is not a matter for discussion from your own viewpoint. You live in the midst of life and death and suffering because they exist, really. That’s why Buddhism says accept your life and understand how the world is with imperturbable composure. To be imperturbable is to walk step by step by step. This is a hard thing, but you can accept it. Even though you suffer from your daily life so much, just accept it, just listen to the silence, the voice of your steps, with imperturbable composure. This is Buddhism.’ (from Wind Bell)

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘I have felt like a buffalo in medicine ceremonies. I have flown with an eagle feather while dancing in the wind of a Lakota arbor. And I have felt like a tiny bird bouncing on a branch during zazen. I have had many glimpses of being and not being while sitting. The lights have been dimmed. The chants chanted. The incense offered. And then there is this feeling that I could very well be touching the moon, the one in the dewdrop. I am clear that I have experienced meditation as a shamanic journey, particularly zazen, where there is no one guiding the breath, not even the practitioner.’ (The Shamanic Bones of Zen)

Jiashan

Clear and luminous, no Dharma of awakening,
Awakening confuses people.
In paradise with two feet and eyes, 
Nothing false, and nothing true.

Unprecedented Times

To start, at least, on the strictly personal, I hunkered down over the weekend. As we moved towards the predicted heatwave, which in San Francisco was not especially extreme, I alternated between time on my deck chair and lying on my bed. I had occasional glimmers of the idea that it would be nice to ride down to the beach, but the reality was that I had quite a headache and very little energy. I napped for four lunchtimes straight, which is pretty unprecedented, as well as sleeping eight hours just about every night. 

In some ways, since my symptoms weren’t so bad, it was nice to have an excuse to do very little. I still haven’t cleaned beyond the absolutely necessary. I have started some of my projects, and not got to others. I have noted my ebbs and flows of energy, and heeded them. There have been hours of football to watch – even if I drifted off during some games – and books to dip into. I walked on Monday evening and felt quite light-headed; on Thursday evening, much less so.

I tested every day; a couple of the tests that the government had sent me turned out to be defective, but I was positive (or unsure) from Friday until Thursday, even as I started feeling better. Having gone out to buy some more tests, the first of those turned out negative yesterday, and I will check again over the weekend before starting to return to doing things in person – I had to postpone the roam scheduled for Sunday, but I am still intending to give the talk at City Center on Wednedsay.

I had a little concern that – along with not getting myself back into good riding shape as I wished – I was not getting my bank accounts back in good shape after a month of not earning while I was traveling, and having had a number of unanticipate bike expenses as well. The wedding and other in-person events, apart from the pleasure of doing them, were things I was counting on to get money flowing in again. That said, I have started getting paid for other work I have done since I have been back, and, as I remembered very vividly as I went through some old posts on Patreon, my bank accounts are much healthier than they were in my first few years out of Zen Center, when I would sometimes have to sweat to make the next month’s rent, and was more than once saved by unexpected donations. I am also thankful that Charlie offered the week off when he heard I was still testing positive, and that I was eligible for sick pay for the two days I was missing, unlike all the other work I do.

And then, of course, I woke up on Thursday to news of the Queen being placed under medical supervision. Chatting with friends, it seemed clear that it was serious, and I was saddened, if not at all surprised, when her death was announced a few hours later. I found myself glued to the unfolding coverage from back home, and trying to wrap my head around the idea of there being a new monarch.

I would never have described myself as much of a royalist, but as is commonly expressed, that did not preclude a huge amount of respect for the Queen herself. I have not known anyone else on the throne, even as the royal family aged and died. Coming as it did just two days after the appointment – by royal approval – of a new, and somewhat disparaged Prime Minister, leading a much-criticised government through what was already a time of crisis, the sense of transitioning into a new era is very strong. I couldn’t say that I can express the range of my feelings – over time I am sure they will settle and become clearer. In the meantime, here are three articles that I enjoyed reading, from the Guardian, the New York Times, and the New Yorker, if you haven’t yet suffered a surfeit of coverage. 

When I awoke on Friday morning to discover that all the weekend’s football had been cancelled, I did wonder how on earth I was going to spend the time. I guess I shall have to start getting my talk into shape.

Joko Beck

‘More and more when I hear stories about the ancient monasteries, I wonder. They had a thousand monks sometimes, and you hear about the star who “did it” – but they don’t tell you much about the other nine hundred and ninety-nine. I’m sure a lot of them didn’t know what on earth they were doing…

Now, my students pass Mu too, but a lot of them have never even heard the word! And they still pass it. You don’t need to know the word- if practice is sincere and intense, at some point there is just a comprehension of what life is. “Oh,it’s that!” If the mind is empty and quiet – sure, there it is.’ (Meetings With Remarkable Women)

I remember having a similar wonder when I lived at Tassajara, about some of the other members of the great assembly. Of course, I could equally avow that I didn’t know what on earth I was doing. But I think something akin to what she describes in the second paragraph rubbed off on me too.

Suzuki Roshi

‘People may say, if the purpose of Zen is to see “things as it is,” then there will be no need to practice. There [laughs] is—there is the great problem. I think the most—in your everyday life, the good practice may be to make your flower garden or raise flower or to make a garden. That is, I think, the best practice. You know, when you sow some seed, you have to wait the seed coming up. And if it comes out, you have to take care of it. That is our practice. Just to sow a seed is not enough. To take care of it day after day is the—very important for the good gardener. Or while some other work like building a house, you know, if you—once you build a house, his work is finished. If someone write a book—if—if someone has written a book, that is enough. But for a gardener, it is necessary to take care of it every day. Even though you make that garden, it is necessary to take care of it. So, I think our way is to make garden—nearly the same as to make your own garden, or to raise some vegetables or flower.

And each seed or each plant has its own character and has its own color and has its—has its own color. And if it is stone, each stone has its own character. Long one has its—has some solemn, profound feeling; and round stone [laughs] has some perfect idea—symbolize or express the perfection; and square one express some rigidness or austerity—austere feeling. And each stone has its own character. And if it has moss on it, it has some deep, profound, mystical feeling to it. Those are, you know, those are the character of each material you use in your garden.

But people may say—if people say, “Whatever we do, that is Zen,” you know, “I am seeing ‘things as it is’” [laughs]. People may see it, you know, individually—one after—one by one, but that is not enough. You see it, actually, you see—maybe you see “things as it is,” you may say, but it is—you are just seeing the each material and each character of the material.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)

I was listening to this transcript from the first summer at Tassajara when I realised I hadn’t added yesterday’s post from Dogen. Turning back to Suzuki Roshi, I thought that this was a perfect commentary on that.

Dogen

‘Not all beings see mountains and waters in the same way. Some beings see water as a jeweled ornament, but they do not regard jeweled ornaments as water. What in the human realm corresponds to their water? We only see their jeweled ornaments as water. 

Some beings see water as wondrous blossoms, but they do not use blossoms as water. Hungry ghosts see water as raging fire or pus and blood. Dragons and fish see water as a palace or a pavilion. Some beings see water as the seven treasures or a wish-granting jewel. Some beings see water as a forest or a wall. Some see it as the dharma nature of pure liberation, the true human body, or the form of the body and the essence of mind. Human beings see water as water. Water is seen as dead or alive depending on [the seer’s] causes and conditions. 

Thus, the views of all beings are not the same. Question this matter now. Are there many ways to see one thing, or is it a mistake to see many forms as one thing? Pursue this beyond the limit of pursuit. Accordingly, endeavors in practice-realization of the way are not limited to one or two kinds. The thoroughly actualized realm has one thousand kinds and ten thousand ways. 

When we think about the meaning of this, it seems that there is water for various beings but there is no original water—there is no water common to all types of beings. But water for these various kinds of beings does not depend on mind or body, does not arise from actions, does not depend on self or other. Water’s freedom depends only on water. 

In this way, water is not just earth, water, fire, wind, space, or consciousness. Water is not blue, yellow, red, white, or black. Water is not form, sound, smell, taste, touch, or mind. But water as earth, water, fire, wind, and space actualizes itself. 

This being so, it is difficult to say who has created this land and palace right now or how such things have been created. To say that the world is resting on the wheel of space or on the wheel of wind is not the truth of the self or the truth of others. Such a statement is based only on a small view of assumptions. People speak this way because they think that it is impossible for things to exist without having a place to rest.’ (Shobogenzo Sansuikyo)

Some classic lines from the Mountains and Waters Sutra about essence and manifestation. How is it? Pursue this beyond the limit of pursuit.

Carlo Rovelli

‘Perhaps there is no need to make anything up about what lies behind quantum theory. Perhaps it really does reveal to us the deep structure of reality, where a property is no more than something that affects something else. Perhaps this is precisely what “properties” are: the effects of interactions. A good scientific theory, then, should not be about how things “are”, or what they “do”: it should be about how they affect one another.

The idea seems radical. It pushes us to rethink reality in terms of relations instead of objects, entities or substances. The possibility that this could be what quantum physics is telling us about nature was first suggested a quarter of a century ago. For a while it remained largely unnoticed, then several major philosophers picked it up and began to discuss it. Nowadays interest in the idea, called the Relational Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, is steadily growing. It is a possible solution to the puzzle of quantum theory: what quantum phenomena are is evidence that all properties are relational.

There is a strikingly similar definition of existence at the root of the western philosophical tradition. Plato’s The Sophist contains the following phrase: “Anything which possesses any sort of power to affect another, or to be affected by another, if only for a single moment, however trifling the cause and however slight the effect, has real existence; and I hold that the definition of being is simply action. [δύναμιςδύναμις]” And in the eastern tradition, the Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna’s central notion of “emptiness” (śūnyatā) tells us that nothing has independent existence: anything that exists, exists thanks to, as a function of, or according to the perspective of, something else.

So maybe this is not such a radical idea after all. We all know that a chemical substance is defined by how it reacts, a biological species is defined according to the niche it occupies in the biosphere, and what defines us as human beings is our relationships. Think of a simple object such as a blue teacup. Its being blue is not a property of the cup alone: colours happen in our brain as a result of the structure of the receptors in the retina of our eyes and as a consequence of the interactions between daylight and the cup’s surface. Its being “a teacup” refers to its potential function as a drinking vessel: for an alien who doesn’t know about drinking tea, the very notion of a teacup is meaningless. What is more, its stability as an object depends on the timescale in which we consider it: take a longer view and it is just a fleeting aggregation of atoms. And are these atoms themselves independent elements of reality? No they are not, as quantum theory shows: they are defined by their physical interactions with the rest of the world.

So quantum physics may just be the realisation that this ubiquitous relational structure of reality continues all the way down to the elementary physical level. Reality is not a collection of things, it’s a network of processes.’ (from the Guardian)

Those of you who have been reading here for a long time will prehaps remember that I have a soft spot for quantum physics, and a firm belief that Buddha had a good sense of it. This article was lovely to read yesterday (insofar as my slightly foggy brain allowed), and it went on to propose that relationship is everything. Which I think we all know.