Jakusho Kwong

‘You could say when there is this—you, the personal you— there is that; this is karma. This is cause and effect. You are thinking you know who you are, but in the Buddhadharma you are not who you think you are. This is the saving grace. 

So again, when this—the I am—appears, that appears, so we have the subject and the object—the duality which creates the world of suffering. 

In meditation, when there is not this, there is not that. It means that nothing disappears, nothing is disappearing. But when I am not who I think I am, then those things, those objects outside of me, are not what they seem to be. We’ve become very attached and fixed on those objects, we’ve begun comparing, we’ve begun liking. We can like or dislike, but all this causes karma. 

Finally, when there is no longer this—no Roshi, not even Bill [chuckles]—when there’s no longer this there’s no longer that. We see the same world but in a completely different way. We’re free from that suffering.’ (from the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center newsletter) 

Sensei Alex Kakuyo

‘A rough translation of ‘intoku’ is, “good done in secret”.  It epitomizes the Buddhist ideal that we should do good works without expectation of reward. This is empowering because a sad fact of life is that doing the right thing is no guarantee of a good outcome.  When this happens it can be easy to think, “Why did this happen to me?” or “I don’t deserve this.”

But intoku teaches us that we don’t do good deeds in the hopes of a reward.  Instead we do them because the deed itself is the reward.  The feeling that comes from helping someone in need is priceless. More importantly, it’s very easy to do. 

We can listen intently while someone talks about their day, compliment a friend on their outfit, or simply refill the coffee pot at work when it’s empty.  This practice isn’t about doing something big and flashy.  Instead, it’s about constantly being on the look out for small things we can do to make life nicer for both ourselves and the people around us.  In this way, we make the world warmer, and more welcoming for everyone.’ (from The Same Old Zen)

This is a very sweet article that I have shared with my student group; it also talks about menmitsu (careful attention to detail) and shojin (variously translated as zeal, diligence or joyful effort). I remember reading stories of monks who would get up before everyone else in the monastery (which is very early indeed) to clean the toilets. But you don’t need to go that far. A more practical example from my time at Zen Center was changing the toilet paper roll when it was finished so that the next person didn’t have to – definitely not big or flashy.

Nan Shepherd

‘Having disciplined mind and body to quiescence, I must discipline them also to activity. The senses must be used. For the ear, the most vital thing that can be listened to here is silence. To bend the ear to silence is to discover how seldom it is there. Always something moves… But now and then comes an hour when the silence is all but absolute, and listening to it one slips out of time. Such a silence is not a mere negation of time. It is like a new element.’ (The Living Mountain)

Dogen

‘Students of the Way, you must not cling to your own personal views. Even though you may understand, you should search widely for a good teacher and examine the sayings of the old Masters if you feel there is something lacking or that there is some understanding superior to your own. Yet you must not cling to the words of the old sages either; they too, may not be right. Even if you believe them, you should be alert so that, in the event that something superior comes along, you may follow that.’ (Shobogenzo Zuimonki)

The key word here, as usual, is ‘cling.’

Soft Attention

Someone who has been attending perhaps my favourite ongoing corporate meditation group forwarded me an article the other day that sent me on a little adventure reading about ‘soft fascination.’ When I discussed the notion with a couple of people who came on last Saturday’s roam, their response was pretty much, well, we know that.

The basic idea is that we can feel good in the kind of environment that doesn’t require constant vigilance and evaluation, but is familiar and enjoyable; where the mind can take in what surrounds it in a way that recharges rather than depletes. In other words, nature fits the bill. As does meditation. So unsurprisingly, experienced participants in Roaming Zen don’t feel they need a particular terminology, but know they enjoy the experience.

And, I also know that for the dubious, and the sceptical, and those who set store by data and science, anything they can put a name to helps them along the way. I also think it is what Suzuki Roshi was pointing to in the post from Saturday. To stretch it a little, though it made perfect sense to me while I was riding my bike on Sunday morning, it is just as Dogen reminds us: ‘although actualised immediately, the inconceivable may not be distinctly apparent.’

One of the places we got to practise some soft attention on the roam – Marshall’s Beach.
We also sat at the National Cemetery overlook.
The Bay Trail provides regular opportunities for soft attention – wherever I can ride without cars, I feel more able to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Yuanwu

A fish swims, making the water murky.
A bird flies, shedding its feathers.
The ultimate mirror is difficult to escape.
The great void is boundless.
Once you go, you go endlessly.
By virtue of causation, the one who practices completely
lives five hundred lifetimes.
Thunder cracks the mountains, and storms shake the ocean.
The color of purified gold does not change.

Suzuki Roshi

‘When we sit we call it inmost — let inmost nature in its self, or activity — This is — we call self-use of inmost nature — Let it work. You don’t do anything, but let our true nature work by itself. This is Zen practice. Of course, even though you do not do anything, you have pain on your legs, or some difficulty to keep your mind calm. And sometimes you may think.. “Oh, my zazen practice is not so good.” What are you thinking for? Stop thinking. O.K. This is Zen, you know.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

I posted a segment of this talk not so long ago, but I have been revisiting it, and was also struck by this section. Speaking with a group of probably mostly beginners, haltingly, in his second language, he is outlining jijuyu zanmai. How is it that we can sit and let the self-use of inmost nature do its work? The trick is not to expect that we have any notion of it while it is happening.

San Francisco Life

We read the stories about record-breaking heatwaves, and they are certainly not happening here. This past week has seen an entrenchment of the fog, damp and gloomy, weighing down any thought of summer – apart from the jacarandas flowering around the city, you would not know the season. The only places I have seen clear blue skies have been down in Hillsborough, at the far end of a long and exhausting bike ride on Friday, and in the afternoon in Oakland when I went over to work on Tuesday.

On Saturday, at the end of the afternoon, I went over to Land’s End to conduct a wedding, for friends of a couple I married two years ago, who were among the handful of guests in attendance. The location they had chosen was lovely, a little mound surrounded by trees, high above the waves, with the bridge somewhat visible through the low layer of fog.

The next day, a Zen-a-thon roam that I led for Zen Center was also conducted under low grey skies. On Corona Heights, the wind brought the fog over from the ocean; elsewhere it felt occasionally warm in the lee of the hills, but I kept two layers on most of the way round. The participants seemed to enjoy the little nooks and corners I took them around, and I remembered how much I enjoyed being out amid the hills and trees, whatever the weather.

On Monday afternoon, I was in the middle of a meditation using my Core, when the room started shaking gently. After a couple of seconds, I figured it was an earthquake, and told my partner (who has done her share of tornados, but not so many earthquakes), and we waited to see what happened. Which was, not much more. We tuned into the app which told us that it was a 4.0 – or 4.2, or 3.9 (the estimates varied over time) – deep in the East Bay. I checked the biometrics on the meditation, and my heart-rate had not budged. I guess I have lived here a while – and been woken up by more violent shaking a couple of times.

Looking across the Golden Gate from Land’s End on Saturday night
Downtown and the Mission from Corona Heights on Sunday afternoon.
The earthquake happened during the circled time…

Eugene Bush

‘How exactly do I know what is wholesome, harmless & balanced? The practice of zazen itself can be the beginning of this investigation. This practice is central to zen. We sit down, become still, observe the workings of our own minds, bodies and hearts, pay attention, notice the causes of activity, notice the results of activity, refine and adjust, returning to Vow. This is what I believe Dogen later called ‘resolute stability’ in his extended zazen instruction named Fukanzazengi. We practice zazen meditation simply for the sake of meditation itself (no gaining idea!) We sit simply perceiving the present moment as it is, a convergence of myriad conditions. Who perceives this moment? Recalling Katherine’s wisdom, “The big Self posing as a small self.” Within this interval of non-judgmental present-moment awareness, compassion naturally arises. The thinking mind and the feeling mind can communicate. The heart opens, compassion expresses itself without seeking anything in return. Contrary to an assumption that meditation is self-absorbed disengagement from day -to-day life, meditation simply frees us from the constraints of our limiting habits. It would seem that meditation frees us so that we can be compassionate. But actually, it’s the other way around – compassion is the vast territory out of which the capacity to tend to the moment arises.’ (from the Santa Cruz Center website)

A third consecutive post from teachers I have practised with over the years.

Phil Olson

‘We sat down and I asked about the Zazen posture. “You have not yet learned how we put strength in our stomach,” he said. Again he got up from his cushion and came around to show me how to sit correctly in Zazen. First he adjusted my own posture and then he sat down in front of me and demonstrated the Zazen posture and the way of breathing himself. Watching Suzuki Roshi paying such careful attention to his breathing, I no longer saw Zen practice as something strange or separate from my own life.’ (from the Jikoji archives)

When I read this, I was reminded of the opening chapter of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, where Suzuki Roshi says, ‘To gain strength in your posture, press your diaphragm down towards your hara, or lower abdomen. This will help you maintain your physical and mental balance.’ This is not an instruction that I heard when I was at Zen Center, and I wonder if it is one of those things that got lost in the translation of the practice from Japan to the west. When I am offering zazen instruction, I often tell people to treat the hara, the area between the belly button and the pubic bone, as their centre of gravity and centre of energy while they are sitting, and that if they practise martial arts, they will be used to the notion of moving from that strong core.