Layman Fu

Where the East Mountains float on the river
And the West Mountains wander on and on,
In the realm of this world beneath the Great Dipper:
Just there is the place of genuine emancipation.

Suzuki Roshi

‘If we don’t, you know, feel some actual feeling of practice, some warm, you know, big satisfaction in your practice, that is not practice. Even though you sit, you know, with right posture, trying to have right posture, following your breathing, you know, and following all the instruction which was given to you, but maybe still, you know, it is, you know, empty [laughs] zazen.

Why it is empty zazen is you are just following instruction, you know, following form of, you know, practice. And you are following what the way you should do, even though you are counting, you know, you are not kind enough with yourself. That was the point of Tatsugami Roshi’s saying this morning. You should be very kind, you know, with yourself. Not just count your breathing to, you know, to avoid your thinking mind, but to take best care of your breathing, you know. There is big difference, you know. Even though you are following breathing, you know, just to follow your breathing doesn’t make sense. If you, you know, if you are very kind with your breathing, then, one after another, you will have, you know, refreshed warm feeling in your zazen.

Perhaps, you know, we are not kind enough with ourselves, with our practice. We understand that our practice is, you know– Still we understand, you know, our practice by following some instruction. Or if you only follow the instruction given by some teacher, then you will have good zazen, but [laughs] it is not so. Why you have instruction is how you are able to be kind with yourself. That is, you know, purpose of instruction.

If you don’t feel Buddha’s mercy in instruction, and if you don’t feel, you know, Buddha’s mercy on your form and breathing, you know, and take care of your practice, then there is no warm feeling in it, and it is not, you know, well-satisfied zazen. You should be fully satisfied with your, you know, practice. Or you should be very kind with yourself. So, you know, when you are very kind with yourself, naturally you will, you know, feel satisfaction, you know.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)

Chan Master Sheng Yen

‘If enlightened beings live, act, and think as we do, what is the difference between the enlightened state and the ordinary, samsaric state? The difference is attachment. The thoughts and actions of ordinary people are projections of a notion of self; the thoughts and actions of enlightened beings emanate from wisdom.’ (There Is No Suffering)

In the Dogen Study Group recently, we dealt with the lines ‘Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we, we in the future shall be Buddhas and ancestors.’ What will make us like them? Just what he says here.

The Scrupulous Hermit

‘When Xuefeng, Yantou and Qinshan were traveling together on their Zen pilgrimage they lost their way in the mountains. It was growing dark and there was no monastery to ask for the night’s lodging. At the time they happened to notice a green vegetable leaf flowing down along the stream. By this they naturally inferred that there was somebody living further up in the mountains. But one of the monk-pilgrims argued; ‘That is quite probable, but a man who does not mind letting go the precious vegetable leaf is not worth our consideration.’ Before he finished saying this, they saw a man with a long-handed hook, running down after the lost leaf.’

This was a story I remember reading about in my very early days of practice, and it took me a while to find it again. Now I don’t even remember where I found this version. But the moral of the story is still good.


‘Xuejian asked, “All Zen worthies at the capital say that we must practice zazen and learn samadhi to be able to understand the Way. There has been no one who had attained liberation without practicing zazen and samadhi. I wonder what your opinion about this is?”

Huineng replied, “The Way can be realized by the Mind. What does zazen have to do with it? In a sutra it is said, “If you view that the tathagata sometimes sits and sometimes lays down, you are walking in the evil way.” Why? Because the Tathagata never has a place to come from and to go away; is never arising or perishing. This is the pure Zen of the Tathagata. All dharmas are empty and quiescence; this is pure sitting of the Tathagata. Ultimately speaking, there is neither verification (awakening) nor sitting (practice).”’


Nothing in my life has left me a trace of the Path; 
I have lost my way between the true and the false. 
for long lost days the snow has covered the mountain 
This winter I am aware that the snow makes the mountain 

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

‘Zazen is for those who are willing to sit with the medicine and wonder what effects it will have on their spiritual illnesses. What will be seen in the dark? Who will come to speak loudly in the silence? Zen is for those who thrive on the intangible, the ambiguous, the amorphous, and the infinite. We are stars forever suspended in nowhere. This is what makes Zen appear difficult and strange to many. You really can’t see Zen. You can only experience it after some time of walking the path. In zazen, it is only through the body that awakening is revealed.’ (The Shamanic Bones of Zen)

Shodo Harada

‘People are constantly in a state of desire, and that makes us confused and unclear. Even recognizing our foolishness and vowing to help each other won’t resolve everything. The clear bright essence of mind has to be awakened to. You only have one life. Don’t waste it. It’s not about being praised and complimented, but about realizing how joyful you can be that you have been born. Let go of your small self and know that you are the life energy of all people, not a small isolated piece of living matter. You illuminate the whole globe, as does everything that is alive! The Buddha said the most important precept is giving, to humbly offer and to humbly share. Infinite love is born from seeing how to provide what people really need–because we know they are our own self. This is not something we learn through our practice; we have it from the beginning. We only have to awaken to it.’ (Not One Single Thing)

Seamless Blue Sky

It’s really not hard to remember the joys of going to Wilbur for the weekend. On Friday as I traveled up, I was not in a rush, and the traffic was no worse than usual. When I turned off the 80 onto the 505, I could feel the real adventure beginning. Highway 16 was a realm of beauty all of its own in the low autumn sun. 

Since the forecast was good, we decided to go ahead with a mindful hike on the Saturday, and after I had unpacked, I took one of the resident bikes up to the beginning of the Smelter Trail, which I sometimes hesitated at as I tried to remember which side of which gully to take, and found that there were new signs pointing the way. I took the first stretch of the trail, and reveled in the absolute stillness of the afternoon.

In the evening – and on  Saturday evening as well – I could barely keep my eyes open as I tried to read. I had realised that I had barely had a complete day off in many weeks, even though I do have plenty of space in my schedule. I have resolved to get away this upcoming weekend as a way of doing that; as relaxing as Wilbur is, I still had my teaching commitments. Thankfully, I slept deeply, with many strong dreams, as I typically did when I was there.

I was awake early, and with the temperature being close to freezing, I wrapped up well and took myself off to the nature preserve valley to catch the sunrise. The moon was still up. As I arrived, the Fountain of Life geyser was having one of its regular outpourings, so I took plenty of pictures of that. By the time I had wandered around getting the pictures I wanted it had spouted again, just as the sun was coming up over the hill, so I was shooting with wild abandon and great glee.

There was a good turn-out for the sit, and many of the people also came on the hike. Conditions were ideal, though it did cloud over right when we got up to the medicine wheel, so we didn’t sit and enjoy the view as much as we might have. 

Sunday however, was completely clear, from the canopy of stars when I woke up, to the daytime blue. I went up the first section of the Manzanita trail to catch the sunrise, and then waited for it to reach the bottom of the valley, which took longer than expected; I did not get the backlit steam pictures I had hoped for, but I did catch some of the mineral colours around the hot springs. More sitting, and more relaxing meant I felt like I had had a full good time of it.

Glad as I was to be completely away from the news cycle for a couple of days, it felt like I had a lot to catch up on once I was back online, and I have tried to make the most of all my gaps in schedule both to relax and get everything done. It helps that this is a football-free as we head towards the World Cup. I know all the reasons why it can be boycotted, and know of the deaths, and the tremendous corruption of FIFA (and UEFA), and there are many other ways in which the West engages with the Middle East that are also fairly repulsive, so I will be watching, and hopefully enjoying, the football.

I know I say this every year, but I always remember that the middle of November was my first experience of San Francisco. This week’s weather is reminiscent of what I had then, cold around the edges, but bright and warmer during the days. I’ll take that for as long as it lasts.

The Fountain of Light, backlit.
Coming down from the medicine wheel on Saturday.
First sun over Wilbur on Sunday.
Golden hour.

Suzuki Roshi

‘Here, it– he says– translator’s translation– ”mysterious.” Mysterious does not mean, you know, something [laughing]– something mysterious. Mysterious means, you know, it is mysterious– beyond word, it means, you know. You can– you know it, you know– you can understand it, but you cannot say– you cannot put it in word because word is just– it is not possible to say various understanding– various understanding from all angles. If you say, you know, from one– one side, you cannot say, at the same time, from the other side. So that is why we say “mysterious.” So even enlightened master cannot say anything properly.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archive)