Dogen drew a circle in the air with his whisk, held up the whisk, and said: If I hold this up, you call it buddhas appearing in the world. If I put it down, you call it the ancestral teacher coming from the west. If I draw a circle, you call it what is protected and cared for by the buddhas and ancestral teachers. When I do not hold it up, put it down, or draw a circle, how do you assess this? Even if you can assess it, you should laugh at both the view of the unconditioned and at the livelihood in the demon’s cave. Although it is like this, students of Eihei, there is another excellent place. Great assembly, do you want to see that excellent place?
Again Dogen held up his whisk, and after a pause said: Great assembly, do you understand? If you understand, the Dharma body of all buddhas enters my nature. If you do not understand, my nature in the same way joins together with the Tathagata. Great assembly, what is the meaning of “the Dharma body of all buddhas enters my nature”, and of “my nature in the same way joins together with the Tathagata”?
After a pause Dogen said: In the early morning eat gruel, at lunchtime rice. In the early evening do zazen, and at night sleep.’ (Extensive Record, 518)

I did not understand so well the function of the whisk and how it can manifest the teaching in the way that Dogen is talking about here, until I saw Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi offering lessons in how to use the whisk ahead of the Mountain Seat Ceremony at Zen Center in 2012. When I went looking for the pictures, I also found photos of him with ceremonial cymbals, inkins, a piece of paper, and a statue of Bodhidharma, all held and met with the same sense of complete presence and concentration. I think this is what Dogen was also doing.

Hoitsu whisk 3.jpgHoitsu kaisando 2.jpg



‘In the entire universe in ten directions there is no Dharma at all that has not yet been expounded by all buddhas in the three times. Therefore all buddhas say, “In the same manner that all buddhas in the three times expound the Dharma, so now I also will expound the Dharma without differentiations.” This great assembly present before me also is practicing the way in the manner of all buddhas. Each movement, each stillness is not other than the Dharma of all buddhas, so do not act carelessly or casually. Although this is the case, I have an expression that has not yet been expounded by any Buddha. Everyone, do you want to discern it?
After a pause Dogen said: In the same manner that all buddhas in the three times expound the Dharma, so now I also will expound the Dharma without differentiations.’ (Extensive Record, 24)

Dogen is up to his old tricks again. He sounds like a broken record. What if one of his great assembly had called out that they didn’t want to hear it?


‘With one phrase that expresses the essence, a block of ice melts and a tile breaks. With one phrase a ditch is filled and a valley is dammed. Within this one phrase, all the buddhas of the three times and the six generations of Chinese ancestors are born in heaven and descend from heaven, enter a womb and emerge from a womb, accomplish the way, and turn the Dharma wheel. Therefore it is said, “The bright clarity of the ancestral teacher’s mind is the bright clarity of the hundred grasstips.” Although it is like this, today in the Koshoji assembly I have one phrase that has never been presented by buddhas or ancestors. Do you want to thoroughly discern it?
After a pause Dogen said: The bright clarity of the ancestral teacher’s mind is the bright clarity of the hundred grasstips.’ (Extensive Record, 9)

So Dogen is playing Lingzhao’s game. How does that sound today? Do you want to thoroughly discern it? Perhaps you need to find one phrase that expresses the essence. Quickly, quickly!

The Trees on Lily Alley

It is always hard if someone asks you, at the end of the retreat, how it went. When you have just spent a week pretty much entirely focused inwardly, there is so much that goes on that there is usually not one simple answer. Sometimes there are amazing highs and lows, and we learn that we can sit with both, that life is nothing but highs and lows that come and go whether we want them to or not.
In the week of the Genzo-e I felt that I spent a lot of time just feeling really tired, and that very little of my zazen was spent in the present moment. There were, from time to time, flashes of concentration, and the first couple of days as I settled in brought wonderful and heart-opening clarity to situations I have been dealing with recently. Those kinds of moments are priceless and resonate onwards in valuable ways.
The great joy of the Genzo-e is getting to study Dogen. It is fifteen years since Shohaku’s first one at City Center, which I attended as a fairly new practitioner, just before I went off to Tassajara for the first time, and five years since I last did one, out at Green Gulch. He said that a book of the 2002 talks will be coming out soon, and it will be interesting to read this with my current ‘eye of practice’ – I probably still have my notes somewhere, and they would also be interesting to read. To be honest, I am excited to read back the notes I just took from the dozen classes we just had. The ideas are so dense (and there were moments when I was just so sleepy) that I was writing things down not knowing if they would make any sense later.
I do know that half-way through the Genzo-e at Green Gulch, I moved from a state of depletion to one of real aliveness and clarity, and absorbed how Shohaku was speaking about the interplay of relative and absolute (what we might call ‘that old zen chestnut’) that I still use when I teach now – although probably an old school zen teacher would say ‘don’t speak of it for thirty years.’ I felt that I came away from this one with a more three-dimensional understanding of this, and I hope that I can absorb it and use it in the future.
I can’t remember which day, but somewhere in the middle, during the morning class, I was sitting on the courtyard side of the dining room, and looking across the room and through the windows that look out onto Lily Alley, which were mostly filled with densely-leaved trees, when I suddenly felt completely awake and concentrated just watching the leaves move in the wind; ironic really, given the subject of the Dogen fascicle being discussed – the cypress tree in the yard.
Naturally this awakeness vanished before too long, but there were flashes of it at other times, not least in the times I spent on the roof after each meal. When I lived at Zen Center I would love being up on the roof and watching the city and the unfolding sky in each direction (and I took thousands of pictures of the various weathers); mostly last week was intensely foggy and not that warm, but it was just about the only fresh air I got all day. And, in something I first noticed in the many sesshins I sat at Tassajara, often the zendo is just the incubator; the interesting stuff happens when you go outside afterwards and meet the world with fresh eyes.
One way I did get to meet the world was walking to and from Zen Center – not every day, as Jamie kindly drove me as often as not, or picked me up en route sometime shortly before five in the morning. I have not often walked around the city in my robes. The funniest moment was leaving one evening, when a young couple who might have been living out on the streets were arguing just ahead of me. The man muttered something, and the woman replied ‘well right now I would like to shove this guitar up your – oh! there’s a monk walking by, we had better watch out!’
The five o’clock world of San Francisco was sweet to walk through: so little traffic, though there were delivery trucks unloading, and the first streetcars rolling up Market for the early birds, as well as cleaners working in the bars and restaurants, people heading to early gym sessions, baristas prepping for opening, homeless people sleeping in doorways or wandering around in their version of reality. No-one seemed to notice the robes then.
Even spending a week in robes is unusual for me now. I loved re-immersing myself in forms and ceremonies, even though, typically for Zen Center, there were many people visiting for the retreat who were not familiar with many of the forms, so things were not always smoothly flowing in the way that makes me happy. I got the opportunity to be doshi for a couple of the zendo services, which were also moments of great concentration and energy. I remembered how much I love chanting, and oryoki, which I have not done in a couple of years, but every movement of which is still in my body.
Best of all was the little kaisando service in the morning before breakfast, when the priests would gather and just silently prostrate to Suzuki Roshi in gratitude for his bringing the practice to us. There were too many of us at the retreat for us all to fit in, so sometimes I was out on the landing, but the feeling is the same – a moment of gratitude and devotion expressed through the body.
And do I have a better answer? The thought occurred somewhere towards the end, ‘moment after moment, arising is arising.’ But then that seemed a little sequential, so it became, ‘moment and moment, arising and arising.’ And then to lessen the separation, ‘moment, moment – arising, arising.’ I suspect Dogen would go on to say, ‘moment-arising, arising-moment.’
In any case, since any understanding is incomplete and temporary, perhaps I should just repeat what I said as my contribution to the closing ceremony, using one of Dogen’s favourite exhortations, when we were asked to articulate a short phrase about our retreat experience: investigate further!

The Lotus Sutra

‘If there be any who receive and keep, read and recite, rightly remember, practice and copy this Law-Flower Sutra, know that such are attending on Sakyamuni Buddha as if they were hearing this sutra from the Buddha’s mouth; know that they are paying homage to Sakyamuni Buddha; know that the Buddha is praising them – ‘Well done’; know that the heads of such are being caressed by the hands of Sakyamuni Buddha; know that such are covered by the robe of Sakyamuni Buddha. Such as these will not again be eager for worldly pleasure, nor be fond of heretical scriptures and writings, nor ever again take pleasure in intimacy with such men or other evil persons, whether butchers, or herders of pigs, sheep, fowl, and dogs, or hunters, or panderers. But such as these will be right-minded, have correct aims, and be auspicious. Such will not be harassed by the three poisons, not be harassed by envy, pride, haughtiness, and arrogance. Such will be content with few desires, and able to do the works of Universal Virtue.’

The sutra contains a number of passages like this, bestowing merit in advance on those who uphold it in various ways. I am endeavouring not to have ulterior motives by copying it; more to the point, I am still harassed by some of the negative traits that I am assured will not afflict me, and I may even hang out with panderers from time to time. As elsewhere in the sutra, some of the language can be problematic (I chose this one because it was one of the few that did not default to the men-only language that does pervade other parts), but the important take-away is the intimate connection to Buddha and his experience. This is the same connection that Sekito affirms at the beginning of the Sandokai , and that Dogen insists on in the Jijuyu Zanmai: ‘This being so, the zazen of even one person at one moment imperceptibly accords with all things and fully resonates through all time. Thus in the past, future, and present of the limitless universe this zazen carries on the Buddha’s teaching endlessly. Each moment of zazen is equally wholeness of practice, equally wholeness of realization.’ Wonderful benefits, and can we do this without ulterior motives?


‘Zhaozhou was asked by a monk, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”
Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in the garden.”
The monk said, “Reverend, please do not use an object to guide me.”
Zhaozhou said, “I am not using an object.”
The monk said, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”
Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in the garden.”
Although this koan originated with Zhaozhou, all buddhas have in fact created it with their whole bodies. Who could own it?
What we should learn from this is that the cypress tree in the garden is not an object. Bodhidharma’s coming from India is not an object, and the cypress tree is not the self.’ (Shobogenzo Hakujushi)

I would add, how could the monk be guided? And what do the whole bodies of all the buddhas look like, if not a cypress tree?
But then, I don’t really know anything about all of this. Luckily, starting today, I will be at Zen Center studying this fascicle as part of the Genzo-e with the incomparable Shohaku Okumura. This is a real highlight of my year, and perhaps I will have a better answer at the end of the sesshin.


Encountering whatever meets the eye, all is intimate.
In sitting, lying or walking meditation, the body is completely real.
When someone asks the meaning of this,
A speck of dust appears within the Dharma eye treasury. (Extensive Record, vol 10, 66)