Byakuren Judith Ragir

‘What needs to be renounced as we enter a spiritual path? In the West, Buddhist practice is often an odd combination of monastic visits and householder lives. When I was ordained, I was already married and had two children. I did not leave my family, but I learned to practice with my story-filled life by transforming the basis of operation in my mind. I have had to work with my egocentricity; my attachments and clinging; and my greed, anger, and delusion right in the middle of the mess of household life and an urban zendo. After forty years of practice, I am still practicing home-leaving within the confines of a home, as Yasodhara did. I take heart from a the story of a Tibetan teacher’s mother who got enlightened, as she tells it, by “practicing in the gaps” of her everyday life. Or as my root teacher, Katagiri Roshi, would encourage us by saying, “In every moment, merge subject and object into the very activity that is arising.”‘ (The Hidden Lamp)

When I lived at Tassajara, there would almost always be some women there who had waited until their children were grown before committing themselves to intensive monastic training. As Byakuren points out, the conditions of life at home are also deep opportunities for practice: the personal issues that arise at home are no different from those that arise at the monastery, it’s just that when you live at the monastery, there is usually more time to reflect and absorb what is going on.





Katagiri Roshi

‘A diver jumping off the cliff, a mountain climber, an artist, a poet, or a musician creates a beautiful form that manifests the maturity of his or her life. But spiritual life doesn’t have that same sense of performance. So creativity in religion cannot manifest in the same way. Of course you do manifest maturity because, as Dogen says, ‘you cannot avoid detachment from the zazen posture’. But then, next you must be free from that manifestation. In Japanese we say gedatsu, meaning emancipation, or freedom. Moment after moment you must be free from the beautiful form you created, because the moment in which the form existed has already gone, and the next moment is coming up. Life becomes mature, constantly. You cannot stop it, not even for a moment, so you have to keep going. You must keep practicing to create this beauty again and again. This is spiritual creativity.
So, what is this zazen practice that we do? It’s not doing zazen. If you believe it’s doing zazen, then practice is just a task, and that task becomes a really big burden for you. That is not a true understanding of practice. Buddhist practice is to constantly create beauty. Beauty is the functioning of wisdom. That’s why Dogen Zenji says that you have to abandon the usual understanding of the form of zazen and touch the heart of zazen. Otherwise you cannot maintain this kind of practice. That’s why I have to explain it and why you have to understand very deeply what practice means. Then, if you understand even slightly, you should keep going. That makes your life mature.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

Katagiri Roshi

‘Try to realize that you have already set yourself out in the vastness of the Buddha’s world because you exist as a human being, So all you can do now is make every possible effort to live in Buddha’s world with a way-seeking mind. Usually we don’t want to do this. If we step outside the familiar patterns of our lives we are scared. But we have to do it sometimes, so we should do it positively. This is very important for us. If we do it positively, we realize how great our capability is. That doesn’t mean to become strong by expressing our ego. Expressing the ego seems to make us strong, but it is the complete opposite. In Zen monasteries the ego is always being hit on the head, like pouring water over a burning fire. Immediately pffft! Nothing is left. It’s pretty hard, but this is the way to become strong.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)

I had this paragraph written out in my notes, and wondered if I had already posted it, but a search for ‘pffft!’ brought up nothing. I seem to recall using it in a dharma talk, and reading it again now, it seems to point to the same process that Pema Chödrön is talking about.

Katagiri Roshi

‘There are many interesting things to do in the human world. To do as much as possible keeps you busy making lots of sounds. That’s fine, but you have to understand that these sounds come from no-sound. If you always understand sound as coming from sound, you become confused and lose the direction in which you should go. You have to know no-sound, because no-sound is your nature. Then, very naturally, you will want to come back from no-sound and look at your own particular sound. That’s wonderful. Thank you can know it.
Zazen is to come back to no-sound. Come back to the sound of no-sound and see it. It’s not just your limited territory, it is a vastness from which your capacity, your knowledge, your nature comes, just like spring water coming up from the earth. This is zazen, exactly; this is you.’ (Returning to Silence)

Katagiri Roshi

‘We can see the original principle of existence in the life of a tree, a pebble, snow, the seasons, and other forms in nature. This principle is what-is-just-is-of-itself, before it runs through our consciousness. This original principle as a manifestation of buddha is not separate from the form of trees, form of pebbles, form of the seasons or the form of everyday routine. It is always manifested and completed. “Completed” means there is no excuse, because it is completed in every single form of existence. It’s there, speaking. Trees are always speaking about the original principle or Buddha. This is called Dharma or teaching. Everything becomes a teaching for us. We realize the Buddha in every single existence. We realize all sentient beings are buddha.’ (Returning to Silence)

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A fine old tree on Ealing Common in London demonstrating the point perfectly.