Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘When we are in spiritual community, perfect or not, we see ourselves more clearly. We see the depth of our pain and rage while bowing or offering incense and flowers. We move so slowly that what is in our bodies cannot be overlooked. At first we might feel self-conscious in a community that observes our human frailty. OVer time, the ritual and ceremony take center stage and you begin to see another side of yourself, another side of life, despite being human. This side of life goes unseen in the rush of daily living. Creating sanctuary within requires the practice of stillness and silence provided in outer sanctuaries. When we get a glimpse of the unseen, we are brought back from where we emergred – be it the earth or the source of all life.’ (The Shamanic Bones of Zen)

Suzuki Roshi

‘When I came to America for the first time, for pretty long time, as our old students knows– know, I put emphasis on way-seeking mind. When we have true way-seeking mind– pure true way seeking mind, we can practice our way without any problem. When you have questions or problems in your practice, it means that you are not practicing shikantaza. If you practice shikantaza, you know, you will be monkey-minded buddha in shikantaza. You will be pain-legged buddha in shikantaza. And your whole body will be obstacle buddha– obstacle of buddha– or to be obstacle itself is buddha. Is there any problem, you know, when whatever you do, that is buddha? That is shikantaza.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

Frankly…

I had been planning to write something anodyne about the rain on Sunday and getting wetter on my bike than I had expected. Monday morning was pencilled in for cleaning the crud off my bike, but before I started, I got into an exchange with someone I know. For the sake of anonymity, I will just say that this is a person of colour relatively new to practice, but interested in going deeper. They expressed enjoying a recent ceremony, and then went on to say, 

“However, I am just sitting with this question of whether I can “practice” wholeheartedly knowing that the teachers here can’t meet me in my race… which is really the root of so much of my suffering and conditioning.”

My response, which I have amended slightly for clarity: “You should be able to include all parts of yourself in your practice. If you aren’t able to, it cannot be a fulfilling practice. If your teachers can’t mirror all parts of you back to you, I think you need new teachers, even as you can love these ones in their imperfections.”

Later in the exchange, the student said, “My comments are my perspective. I know I’m operating from a place of confusion. [One teacher] says I can’t do anything from a place of confusion. So I’m supposed to just sit and find my calm.”

“Frankly that’s bollocks,” was my initial reaction. 

As I tried to articulate why, I went on, “[Another student] was undoubtedly operating from a place of confusion and what [they] said was needed and essential. How is a POC or person used to being oppressed or targeted supposed to find any sense of calm if their perspectives are diminished or even dismissed out of hand? People’s confusion is the ground of our practice. None of us get to sit in equanimity and make serene “objective” statements about how things really are. As a quote that really resonated for me says, “neutrality is very often the favourite language of power.” You can operate from a place of confusion and understand that it is confusion and still come up with better understandings than someone who refuses to see that.”

I was reading about the ancestors this morning, and how our ceremonies cultivate gratitude to everyone who passed down the practice through many different cultures so that we can avail ourselves of it today. And, as I get to be more senior, I understand how essential it is to ensure that the teaching is not cut off, that it continues to reach down the generations. I have been listening to Suzuki Roshi emphasising this point in the first few months at Tassajara.

Fifty-five years on, there are so many more options for people wanting to study Buddhism, or even Zen, and as dharma centres we cannot be complacent in assuming that the way we have always done things will be sufficient, especially when the communities have been so homogenous and inward-looking. As a male from the dominant culture, I can’t claim to have the answers for what everybody needs, and in the past I have suggested other teachers to students of colour, teachers who might be better placed to help the student deal with such aspects of their practice. Still, I don’t think it’s okay to suggest that people, especially people from non-dominant communities, need to just stay quiet and not get to express who they are and what they need, even if they are coming from a place of confusion, and even if ultimately this practice is not for them. As a teacher, I know need to allow everyone that space, meet them where they are the best I can, and use what I hear to examine my own blind spots and shortcomings.

Darlene Cohen

‘Because we have been educated to put so much importance on our ability to formulate thoughts and concepts, we tend to live out lives dominated by personal opinion. It’s actually much easier to live this way. It takes less effort to have a simple reactive response to something rather than to attend to our inevitably complex, confusing immediate experience. We can sleepwalk through our lives if we want to do that. The heavy downside of accepting our unthinking opinions about things, however, is that they lock us into fixed ideas that limit what we are able to do or say. They limit our liveliness, our enjoyment of our encounters, and our activities. Worse, the possibility of some new behavior gets less and less the more we rely on our habitual reactions. Preconceptions are how we separate ourselves from actual experience and thereby how we make our lives monotonous and insensible.
We slip out from under our preconceptions when we become absorbed in our immediate activity. Putting aside our huge warehouse of opinions is the act of just doing a task with awareness of the body sensations involved in the task, the swinging door of breath-in, breath-out, the thoughts necessary to organize and project the next steps in the task, the sense impressions of out immediate environment. The great thirteenth-century Zen master Dogen said, “Realization … is effort without desire.” When we understand that we are happiest giving everything our full attention – without concern for the outcome – we have had a great insight into the nature of the human heart.’ (The One Who Is Not Busy)

Tianning

Within differentiation there is oneness.
Within oneness there is differentiation.
Drifting in the human world hundreds and thousands of years, again and again we want to depart but cannot.
In front of the gate just as before, weeds abound. 

Norman Fischer

‘Some people think that meditation makes an already self-concerned person hyper self-aware, thereby increasing causes for worry and upset. There might be some truth to this. But, mostly, meditation practice has the opposite effect: it makes much more vivid the feeling that you are living in a world with other people whose lives, hearts, needs, and pains matter as much as yours do. Meditation increases empathy. It makes you quite loath to hurt anyone—you see that hurting someone is the same as hurting yourself. In fact it is worse. You would rather hurt yourself than hurt someone else. If you hurt yourself, you can deal with it, somehow. But if you hurt someone else, you can’t necessarily help them deal with it. They are stuck with the effects of what you have done to them. And so are you. You have to live with it. Morality comes out of this sensitivity and empathy. Kindness toward others and one’s self is what morality is fundamentally about. Not a set of rules.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

bell hooks

‘It’s not necessary to get to the point of being able to say I completely love myself. But I do think we must come to that place of wholeness where we are at peace, especially those of us who have unresolved trauma. When you have wholeness and peace, it makes you want to love more… People start off thinking they could never love that much—it’s too daunting. Or they don’t want to, because it would make them too vulnerable. But the more you practice love, the easier it is. It becomes an act of grace.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

One of those things we can’t hear too many times.

Issho Fujita

‘Zazen is much bigger and much deeper than the territory of conscious grasping. Its size and depth is beyond our imagination. Its subtlety is beyond our scope. When we do zazen, we should put a higher priority on what is quietly happening beyond our knowing by perceiving and thinking than on what we can experience consciously. This is very distressing for us who live with the assumption that what we can perceive is all that exists. As humans we deeply desire to know everything, to be satisfied by understanding everything. Therefore, it is unbearable that, however hard we practice zazen, we cannot expect to see the results and effects of the effort ourselves. Usually we can only feel satisfaction, fulfillment, pride and so forth only when we can clearly see the results and effects of our effort. Nevertheless, in the case of zazen we cannot do it. So zazen is exactly “to have all our efforts for nothing.”’ (Polishing A Tile)

This is something our poor egos have to get used to.

Dogen

‘The mind that has been authentically transmitted is: one mind is all things, all things are one mind. Thus, an ancient teacher said, “If you realize this mind, there is not an inch of land left on earth.” Know that when you realize this mind, the entire sky collapses and the whole earth explodes. Or, if you realize this mind, the earth raises its surface by three inches.’ (Shobogenzo Sokushin Zebutsu)

Maintenance

The long Memorial Day weekend was quite the mixed bag in terms of weather. I had a notion to try to get out on my bike every morning from Friday onwards, but Friday was so grey I did not feel inspired to go, and spent the day reading and studying instead. On Saturday it was still grey, with a typically damp fog along the west side of city and at Ocean Beach. We had one of those half-and-half afternoons which felt promising enough that I went downtown with my camera, and walked home, catching the angle of the sun on things, as I used to do on my Saturday afternoon camera walks when I lived at Zen Center.

I was quite surprised that Sunday dawned totally clear, and I enjoyed my ride up San Bruno mountain, before I dragged more than a dozen roamers up the south side of Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks on a pleasant afternoon. Monday was also clear, and I had a sunnier time down along Great Highway before climbing over and round to the bay side.

After my pre-Tassajara stretch goal of getting up Mount Diablo, I looked at my calendar for the summer, and realised that between some consecutive weekends away, and the planned trip to the East Coast and the UK, I wouldn’t have a solid block of time to get my fitness back to that level again – it being one of the sadly inevitable facts of aging that it takes quite a while to regain form once you take a couple of weeks off. I made a little pivot more to maintenance rides, and have, dispritingly grey days notwithstanding, kind of gone back to the riding I was doing at the beginning of the pandemic: one serious ride a week, one that just felt like a good stretch of the legs (going up Twin Peaks, for example) and one which was more of an outing, where I felt fine dawdling and taking photographs. 

A couple of weeks off the bikes certainly helped renew my enthusiasm for some regular routes, and there is something about the freshness of a summer morning before the sun is up, with perhaps the exhilaration of seeing a coyote close byin Golden Gate Park, having a pair of herons flying overhead, or hearing the parrots in the palm trees on Dolores St as added bonuses.

Perhaps the main drawback of the rides that I did this past weekend is that, while I could feel the tiredness in my legs, even with the roam, I did not wear myself out in the way that I have done for decades – one of the reasons endurance sports appealed to me back in high school, to burn off the stagnant energy that saps my mood. 

I had an early morning leg-stretcher on Wednesday that took in Stow Lake.
A damp Saturday morning along the Great Highway.
Clarity on Sunday morning from the top of San Bruno Mountain.
Surfers are also early birds – Monday morning
Looking across the former Buri-Buri ranch to the south side of San Bruno mountain on Monday.