Shauzhou Zhangjing

Shauzhou Zhangjing said to the assembly, “If you take one step forward, you will be at odds with reality. If you take one step backward, you will lose touch with phenomena. If you remain immovable, you will be like an insentient being.”
A monk asked, “How can we not be like an insentient being?”
Shauzhou said, “Keep moving in your daily activities.”
The monk asked, “How can we not be at odds with reality and not lose touch with phenomena?”
Shauzhou said, “One step forward, one step backward.”
The monk bowed.
Shauzhou said, “In going beyond, one may understand it in this way. But I will not approve it.”
The monk said, “Master, please point directly for me.”
Shauzhou hit him and drove him out. (Shinji Shobogenzo)

The commentary points out, ‘A good sailor knows to trim the sails according to the wind.’ The wind is always moving, as Dogen reminds us in the Genjo Koan, so we should be as well. Keep moving in your daily activities. And don’t ask a second time.


‘This mountain monk has not lectured for the sake of the assembly for a long time. Why is this? Every moment the Buddha hall, the monks’ hall, the valley streams, and the pine and bamboo endlessly speak on my behalf, fully for the sake of all people. Have you all heard it or not? If you say you heard it, what did you hear? If you say that you have not heard it, you do not keep the five precepts.’ (Extensive Record, discourse 49)

Perhaps he also wanted a nice hot bath and something good to eat…

Nan Shepherd

‘I began to discover the mountain in itself. Everything became good to me, its contours, its colours, its waters and rock, flowers and birds. This process has taken many years, and is not yet complete. Knowing another is endless. And I have discovered that man’s experience of them enlarges rock, flower and bird. The thing to be known grows with the knowing.’ (The Living Mountain)

When I read this passage, I cannot help but hear echoes of Dogen, with the proviso that while things grow with the knowing, the thing itself is beyond the knowing.

The Ventana Cone seen from the Tassajara Road one morning in 2015

Brad Warner

Nishijima Roshi used to say that every philosophy but one fell into either the category of materialism or the category of idealism. Buddhism, he said, was the only exception. This is why the Buddhist worldview is so hard to understand. Whenever we encounter a philosophy that denies the materialistic view, we tend to think of it as idealistic. It’s almost impossible not to do so.

In fact, in terms of how our thinking works it may actually be impossible to hold a worldview that is neither materialistic nor idealistic in our thoughts. Thought insists on seeing things one way or another. It can’t contain contradictory viewpoints. And yet reality itself is not limited to the categories our thoughts insist upon. 

This is why Nishijima Roshi called Buddhism a “philosophy of action.” It is a philosophy that you experience in real action in the present moment. This is why Dogen used deliberate contradictions as a way of pointing out the limitations of language and thought to ever fully explain reality.’ (from Hardcore Zen)

I don’t feel I need to get too philosophical about this, but I agree with the overall premise here, and I think that Dogen might boil it down to ‘reality itself is not limited.’


‘If you want to read sutras, you should follow the scriptural teachings recommended by Caoxi [the sixth ancestor Huineng], such as the Lotus, the Mahaparinirvana, and the Prajna Paramita Sutras. What is the use of sutras not recommended by Caoxi? Why are they useless? Ancient people opened the sutras and commentaries simply for the sake of awakening. Modern people open the sutras and commentaries merely for the sake of fame and profit. Buddhas expound the sutras in order to enable all living beings to attain awakening. When modern people open the buddhas’ sutras only for the sake of fame and profit, how greatly it opposes the intention of the buddhas.’ (Extensive Record, 383)

You can’t get far through Dogen’s writings without a salutary reminder of what’s right and what’s not.


‘In the zazen of patch-robed monks, first you should sit correctly with upright postture. Then regulate your breath and settle your mind…

In the Mahayana there is… a method for regulating breath, which is knowing that one breath is long, another breath is short. The breath reaches the tanden and comes up from the tanden. Although exhale and inhale differ, both of them occur depending on the tanden. Impermanence is easy to clarify, and regulating the mind is easy to accomplish.

My late teacher Tiantong said, “Breath enters and reaches the tanden, and yet there is no place from which it comes. Therefore is is neither long nor short. Breath emerges from the tanden, and yet there is nowhere it goes. Therefore it is neither short nor long.”

My late teacher said it like that. Suppose someone were to ask Eihei, “Master, how do you regulate your breath?”

I would simply say to him: Although it is not the great vehicle [Mahayana], it differs from the lesser vehicle. Although it is not the lesser vehicle, it differs from the great vehicle.

Suppose that person inquired again, “Ultimately, what is it?

I would say to him: Exhale and inhale are neither long nor short.’ (Extensive Record, 390)

Suzuki Roshi

‘Even though we say “just sit,” to understand what does it mean is rather difficult, maybe. So that is why Dogen Zenji left us so many teachings to explain what is just to sit. But it does not mean his teaching is so difficult. When you sit, you know, without thinking or without expecting anything, and when you accept yourself as a buddha or as a tools of buddha or ornament of buddha, or if you understand everything is the unfolding of the absolute teaching or truth, or if you understand everything is a part of the great being–one whole being, when you reach this understanding, whatever we say, whatever we think, or whatever we see, that is the actual teaching of Buddha. And whatever we do, that is actual practice of the Buddha himself.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

Another gem from an early sesshin at Tassajara.


How can white reed flowers covered in snow be defiled by dust?
Who knows that there are many people on the pure earth?
A single plum flower in the cold,
with fragrant heart blossoming,
Calls for the arising of spring in the emptiness in the pot of ages.

Issho Fujita

‘When we teach zazen we often show a photo of an austere Zen monk sitting zazen with upright posture. We begin by saying, “This is a model for zazen. You should sit like this…” I usually show a photo of an infant sitting on the floor. Here is a photo of an eleven-month-old baby. I think we can learn a lot about zazen posture from this photo. According to Zen master Dogen, sitting upright with proper posture (shoshin tanza in Japanese) is the A to Z of zazen. Breath and mind will naturally be regulated by establishing proper zazen posture.

Please notice that this baby shows no sign of contrivance or pretentiousness. We do not see any strain or lack of naturalness. The baby does not seem to be thinking, “I should keep my back straight!” “I must not move!” “If I sit nicely, I will be praised.” He is effortlessly sitting comfortably. To borrow Dogen’s phrase, he sits “with no need for any expenditure of either physical or mental effort” (Shobogenzo Shoji). Nevertheless he is sitting firmly grounded on the floor so that his upper body stands up beautifully and freely, extending in the direction of gravity. He does this because his posture has spontaneously emerged from within as katadori (form), and not as katachi (shape) forcibly imposed from the outside.’ (from the Soto Zen Journal)

Gudo Nishijima

‘In most religions, precepts are considered to be the commandments or laws of god. They form the basis of the religion itself and they must be adhered to strictly. But in Buddhism the precepts are fundamentally different. Keeping the precepts is not the aim of Buddhist life. Perhaps this sounds strange to you but it is the fact in Buddhism. Master Dogen said that following the precepts is only the custom of Buddhists; it is not their aim. He felt that the precepts were only standards by which to judge our behavior. As such they are very useful to us, but we should be careful not to make them the aim of our life.

The precepts have been described as a fence which surrounds a wide, beautiful meadow. We are the cows in that meadow. As long as we stay within the fence our life is safe and serene and we can play freely in the meadow; but when we step outside the fence we find ourselves on shaky ground – we have entered a dangerous situation and we should return to the pasture. When we do, our life becomes safe and manageable again.’ (from a talk on the Precepts)