‘We all have the clear, wondrously bright field from the beginning. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come only from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation. With boundless wisdom journey beyond this, forgetting accomplishments. Straightforwardly abandon stratagems and take on responsibility. Having turned yourself around, accepting your situation, if you set foot on the path, spiritual energy will marvelously transport you.’ (Cultivating the Empty Field)

Blanche Hartman

‘You can use whatever metaphor comes up for you that will help you spot an unskillful thought and drop it. I had an image once of myself moving a piano and putting it down on my foot. Well, if you don’t want the piano on your foot, don’t put it there. Find whatever kind of image will help you laugh at yourself a bit instead of castigating yourself for having such thoughts. You could congratulate yourself for noticing the thought so that now you can let it go. I can get into criticizing myself a lot. But it’s much more effective if I congratulate myself for doing something right than if I hit myself over the head for doing something wrong.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)

I can just hear Blanche’s voice chuckling slightly as she spoke this passage.

Clouds and Water

Redbuds always make me think of Tassajara, where I first came across them: one by the stone cabins, one by the lower garden, the two ends of the main drag.
Last year, when I came to Wilbur in the spring with the friend who had first introduced me to the place, I was astounded at how many redbuds were flowering in the gorgeous expanses of Cache Creek Canyon on the northern end of Highway 16; I loved how they seemed to suck in all the sun in the surrounding area. Traveling up again last weekend, that highway was closed, as it had been at the beginning of the year, to deal with landslides. The alternative, continuing north on the 505 and the 5 is a little dull, but whereas I was beset by a severe amount of rain the last time I took the Highway 20 pass through from Williams to Bear Valley, this time the hills were soft and green, and there was a lambent light shining down on the redbuds growing by the creeks.

With the clocks having gone forward, and a week of higher temperatures behind us, Wilbur was lovely, and mild into the later evenings. Running up the schoolhouse trail after I arrived, there was a profusion of shooting stars on the banks; on the more exposed trail to the medicine wheel, where I ran on Sunday, lupins and poppies and blue dicks, as well as others that I recognised from Tassajara but did not have names for; on the wide-open ridge trail, there were clumps of Indian paintbrush, some a pale scarlet, some a deep crimson. When I had made it up to the ridge, there was almost complete silence; at first some songbirds nearby, with a few raptors drifting along with the faint warm air, and then nothing but the sound of my breathing and the crunch of my shoes, much like running the cliffs of Cornwall, except with waves of hills in the place of ocean. I was very glad to see one of the sticks I had planted in the ground as a way-marker last time, when I had been coming from the other direction –  once I was over the top of the first of the ridge slopes, it was clear where to go. I could not see all the way across to the snow-topped peaks I had seen last time, and which I had glimpsed from the highway a couple of days before; the clouds were rich and hanging perhaps where they would have been, lit in just a few places by the sun to break up the purple and grey.

It was a weekend of generosity: starting with the gift of the van, once again. A regular benefactor had also enquired how much I usually spent on fuel, and donated that amount. An older couple staying at Wilbur were celebrating a birthday, and shared left-over pizza and strawberry shortcake with everyone who was in the common room on Friday night. Someone else gave me a bunch of watercress that they had picked from the banks of a stream; I passed some of it on to others, while enjoying the iron pepper taste of it, richly evocative of English summer to me.

On Monday it rained again, but only after I had arrived back home; I also felt lucky to avoid the rain on my way to and from work on Tuesday. I hope my luck holds out as far as Sunday, when there is a Roaming Zen scheduled…

Early evening on Friday at the bath-house.

Shooting stars beside the trail.

Baizhang Niepan

‘One day, Zen master Baizhang Niepan spoke to the congregation, saying, “If all of you go and till the field, then I’ll lecture on the great meaning.”
When the monks had finished plowing the field they returned and asked the master to expound on the great meaning.
Niepan held up his hands before the monks.’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)

You have to bow to the erudition.


‘As soon as there’s something considered important, it becomes a nest.’

This line might not strike so deeply, but it reminded me of an exchange at Tassajara, during one of the practice periods I was there with Reb, Tenshin Roshi. As usual, after he gave a talk, people were allowed to ask questions, and one of his ordained students started to say something – I don’t remember the content. I do remember Tenshin Roshi’s response, which I would characterise as insistent: ‘You’re nesting.’
I more or less grasped what he meant by that – that the priest was holding firm to a view when it would be wiser to hold it loosely or let it go. Since then I have heard other stories about Suzuki Roshi responding very differently to similar situations depending on whether he thought the student was being inquisitive or merely stubborn.
Maybe Tenshin Roshi repeated the phrase a few times; it had the effect of stopping the priest in their tracks. A few people raised their voices to express the opinion that Tenshin Roshi had been cruel to the priest, but I didn’t see it that way. It felt clear to me that he knew the priest well enough to use that tactic, and that he wouldn’t have been as firm with me, or one of the other junior students. I also seem to remember that the priest later acknowledged the wisdom of Tenshin Roshi’s response. Sometimes giving, sometimes taking life…