Shohaku Okumura

‘In the reality of Buddha’s life, we are connected with and supported by all things. The self is not the subject of reality and other things are not its objects; we are in fact one with all things in the entire universe, and this reality is itself enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something that we can possess or experience. We cannot, because of a certain experience that happened under certain circumstances, say, “I am an enlightened person.” If we judge and experience and say “I had an enlightenment experience,” we have already separated “I” from the reality of all things, when in fact there is no “enlightenment” that is separate from this reality. Rather than striving for a particular experience or goal, we should simply keep practicing without judgment or evaluation. This means approaching all that we do without selfish desire, without even the desire for enlightenment; to practise in this way is to manifest universal reality. This is difficult, of course, because even when we are helping others or making sacrifices for them, we can usually find, if we search our hearts and minds deeply enough, an ego-centered motivation for our activity. This is true even in our zazen practice.

What complicated beings we are! It is impossible to make simple judgments about the egocentricity of our actions. Yet as the Buddha’s children practicing with our bodhisattva vows, we must keep trying to help others and free ourselves of selfishness. Try as we may, however, we will never be able to declare, “Now I am completely free from selfish desires.” All we can do is to try in each moment, to practice the Buddha Way; we just keep opening the hand of thought and continuing to practice. There is no time when one can say, “I’m finished – now I have finally reached the level of an enlightened person.” As Dogen Zenji says, our practice is endless.’ (Realizing Genjokoan)

Norman Fischer

‘If the bodhisattva realizes she or he could give up anything and everything because there is nothing to give up, and this realization makes her or him happy, not afraid, not dejected, not cowed, then she or he is a true bodhisattva. This teaching wisely and surprisingly acknowledes fear as an essential ingredient of our personalities. We identify with the vulnerable self: we think we are and possess what we are not and do not possess. Hence fear of loss of self and possession is essential in us. When basic identity is challenged, fear arises, often masked by anger. To practice the perfection of giving, we have to overcome this fear, realizing that there really is nothing to fear. Everything is empty in the first place.’ (The World Could Be Otherwise)

Reaching For Resolution

‘As a professor, I detect a similar hope in the students who take my feminism classes, especially the women (as most of them are). Many of them come to feminism looking for camaraderie, understanding, community. They want to articulate the shared truth of their experience, and to read great feminist texts that will reveal the world to which they should politically aspire. They want, in other words, something akin to what so many women of the second wave experienced in consciousness-raising groups. As the British feminist Juliet Mitchell put it in 1971, “Women come into the movement from the unspecified frustration of their own private lives,” and then “find that what they thought was an individual dilemma is a social predicament and hence a political problem.”

But my women students quickly discover, as an earlier generation did, that there is no monolithic “women’s experience”: that their experiences are inflected by distinctions in class, race, and nationality, by whether they are trans or cis, gay or straight, and also by the less classifiable distinctions of political instinct—their feelings about authority, hierarchy, technology, community, freedom, risk, love. My students soon find, in turn, that the vast body of feminist theory is riddled with disagreement. It is possible to show them that working through these “wars” can be intellectually productive, even thrilling. But I sense that some small disappointment remains. Nelson suggests that looking to the past for the glimmer of liberatory possibilities “inevitably produces the dashed hope that someone, somewhere, could have or should have enacted or ensured our liberation.”’ (Amia Srinivasan, from the New Yorker)

I was reading this piece the morning after my student group, where we have been discussing the angel Kyodo williams article that I have been quoting from. One of the participants, who enjoyed the content, voiced a wish to know what to do, once we have acknowledged the issues.

As part of my response, I paraphrased the quote from Pema Chodron that we have also looked at in the group (if you don’t want to click: ‘as human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity’), as well as my recollection of the powerful interview with angel Kyodo williams from the aftermath of the 2016 election (particularly where she talked about the need for people to ‘do some soul-searching to identify what their contribution might be. As you recall, I encouraged people not to jump to a conclusion too soon. I think we have a tendency to do that—to do something, anything—rather than abide in the painful feelings of grief, disillusionment, anger, and despair.’)

So what can we do? I think it has a lot to do with continual inquiry, and trusting that, in the moment, we can act from the ground of our good intentions. Which of course always has the caveat of us all being fallible and prone to making mistakes. I have written before about how, despite learning in my college years how so much is dependent on heirarchies of power, I have nonetheless blundered, blinkered by my internal narrative of smallness and invisibility (from within my family system), and not seeing how objectively powerful I became once I was ordained and became a teacher.

Which is where the continual nature of this kind of inquiry becomes the important practice (with a nod to being able to hold opposing viewpoints, as discussed yesterday). And I was pondering that, while it may be tempting in some circumstances to argue contrarian viewpoints (about vaccination, say, or Ivermectin), we should also be clear about whose agenda benefits when we do so. I will leave the last words to angel Kyodo williams, from the same article:

‘The dharma—understanding, peering into the nature of reality—is not specific to Buddhism. The dharma is truth. And the only choice we really have is whether to try to be in relationship with the truth or to live in ignorance. There are no other choices. You have to actively engage. How did I come to be? How do I think of myself? How did I get what I have? (I don’t mean your degrees.) Where did I come from? What land are we on? If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. All of us, in some way, have profited from our wrong knowing.’

Brad Warner

‘My teacher Gudo Nishijima Roshi wrote a book called Understanding The Shobogenzo. Shobogenzo is a famous book by the 12th century Japanese Buddhist philosopher Dogen Zenji. In his book about Dogen’s book, my teacher says, “We generally feel that a book in which the writer contradicts him/herself is of little value. This is largely because our modern civilization has grown to be vast and powerful from the thousands of years over which human beings have developed logical and exact ways to process and control their environment. The intellect has become king. Human beings have used their powers of reasoning to develop a whole field of intellectual and moral studies to guide our progress through history. And in recent times, we have applied our reasoning powers to exact scientific study of our world, based on belief in causal laws. So in today’s world, in both philosophy and science, anyone who puts foreword contradictory propositions is soon passed over. Writings that are not logically consistent are disregarded by scholars and serious students. They are unacceptable to our finely-tuned intellects.”

Nishijima Roshi then says, “From our common intellectual viewpoint, logical contradiction can never be permitted. But Master Dogen seemed to have two viewpoints: the normal intellectual viewpoint of the philosopher, and another viewpoint; one that looked at problems based on something outside the intellectual area. Now whether philosophical thought should admit the existence of an area other than the intellectual area as a basis for debate is perhaps the crux of the problem with Buddhist philosophy and the Shobogenzo.”’ (from Hardcore Zen)

I have been thinking about this approach to Dogen ahead of the upcoming Zen Center class, but also in terms of how we think about just about everything – which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

Zenkei Blanche Hartman

‘When we are investigating Zen, we’re just investigating how to live this life. I don’t know of anything more urgent for me to investigate than how to live this life. Whether or not there’s rebirth or anything else, I get only one chance to live this life, and I’d love not to make a mess of it.’ (Seeds for a Boundless Life)

I was looking for some quotes on reincarnation as part of researching the upcoming class, and came across this one again.

angel Kyodo williams

‘Everything I see, everything I say about liberation comes from this very dharma, the same dharma that you hold dear, these fundamental truths that give us the path to see ourselves. The only way I can sit here and not be absolutely furious, livid with every man, every white body, every straight body, is because of my path. Even when I want to be mad or hating on folks because they represent dominant paradigms, I cannot, because liberation wants nothing else but liberation for all. That’s the only reason I can speak from this place—because one day I woke up and much to my chagrin, I loved the very same people who would rather see my body lying in the street. I loved the very same people who would ignore me in my dharma center. I loved the very same people who would make me invisible. I didn’t say I liked them! But I do love them. This is not the path of “Everything is going to be neat.” This is not the path of “All the answers will make you feel good.” This is a path of complexity. And that love is not an easy burden.

I’m not here to say that you should now go and study race, or study patriarchy, or study oppression to the detriment of your practice. We need the container that our spiritual life provides. We have to find that resonant truth in ourselves that helps us to see more clearly what is happening outside. Those of us who are monastic and solely want to turn inward cannot be free. Those of us who are just activists or just wrestling with how to deal with oppression? We can’t be free either.

It’s an inside-out job—we need both paths. We need self and we desperately need other. We need to understand the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to know. We need to understand the parts that society tells us we should have shame about. We need to understand our history and our context and then live through that, live into that truth. We don’t have to know the answers. We just have to choose to live into the truth. And the truth, both universal and ever-unfolding from moment to moment, is not easy for most of us to apprehend. We want it to be clear, to be fixed. We want to have a neat, packaged answer. We want somebody to come and give us the answer, to tell us what to do, so we can abdicate our responsibility, give up our agency, and hope for the best. But you don’t get to walk a path of liberation and not be accountable. First and foremost, liberation is about choosing to be 100 percent accountable for who and how you are. And if that sounds like a really big job that you are going to be working at for the rest of your life, it is. There are other things you could be doing with your time. That’s fine—you just don’t get to say you’re walking a path of liberation.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

Dogen

The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But, like like the deep blue colour
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world

Suzuki Roshi

‘Soto way is to use everything in right purpose and to put everything [in] its own– its own place. What should be put on high place should be put on high place, and what should be put on floor should be on floor. In America, you know, you put scriptures [laughs] on the floor where you walk. We don’t, you know. But I don’t know how to do it– how to treat those scriptures in your way of life. So until I find out [laughs] some way, I don’t say, “Don’t put scriptures on the floor.” But this is not supposed to be put on– supposed to be treated as a rubbish, you know– as rubbish. This is not rubbish. Scripture should be put on table, or altar, or in your hand. Those small things is very important.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

I don’t feel bad about having another Suzuki Roshi post relatively soon after the last one – perhaps one day this blog will be all Suzuki Roshi and Dogen…

In any case, I have been working very hard to polish up parts of the archive prior to a more public unveiling of the work we have been doing on the audio side of things. On Friday, since we had an unusual thunderstorm and some rain early in the morning, I didn’t bother to go out on my bike after my early teaching, but just got my teeth into archive work, and by the end of the day my eyes were square.

Also, in this case, from the first recorded sesshin at Sokoji, in 1965, Suzuki Roshi is quoting Dogen (who was also quoting someone else, if I recall correctly – I’m not sure I have the brainpower to go and look for the lines in the Tenzokyokun), and giving his students a reminder of how to practise. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t think about until you do start formal practice, and then you realise that the so-called ‘small things’ are very important.

Corey Ichigen Hess

‘Many of us hear or read that we must let go in our practice. But we worry that if we let go of our calculating mind, our smart manipulating mind, we’ll be helpless or depleted. We’ll be fragile or let everyone down.  We’ll be a fool, banging into things as we walk and constantly saying the wrong thing. We think that letting go is the most frightening thing, because we are controlling our environment to feel safe and worthy and acknowledged…

In the monastery one becomes used to living and having no understanding of what is happening. We might be asked at any moment to do something we are totally unprepared for.  We become comfortable with uncertainty, having no clue what is going on. We begin to live more in our bodies, more basic, fresh to our experience.  We are trained in a physical practice to realize how to function from a place of having no idea what is going on. In sanzen the Roshi would stop me if I reached out with my mind or If I tried to answer a koan from a mental place. If I tried to understand the practice mentally.  Every day he tapped his head and said: “Isn’t here”. (from Zen Embodiment)

A Day In The Life

September started off on the right foot in San Francisco, with a warm and sunny holiday weekend. I had a great time leading the roam on Saturday, with the fog mostly holding off, and then had two bike rides, on Sunday and Monday morning, to continue the outdoor theme, which felt very beneficial.

The general good feeling about the short week was my inspiration for the teaching sessions I held today: what part of us knows that a holiday Monday feels like Sunday, and the Tuesday feels like Monday? What assumptions are we making, and are they mental or physical? Although it might have felt like a Tuesday, I was definitely doing Wednesday things, in an enjoyable combination, as follows.

I woke up, as I often do, well before it got light, but I felt rested enough to get up and have some coffee and read the morning stories as is my habit now. That way, I had plenty of time to get ready for the first teaching session of the day, a short one with a group I very much appreciate. I had my laundry in the machine before I sat down (out of consideration for the other people in the building, I wouldn’t attempt to do laundry any earlier than 8:00), and since the sun was out, I attempted to dry everything out on the deck, which has proved sadly impossible on the foggier days we have been having (I resent having to use a dryer, and to use so much energy when it can be done by the sun).

Once that was done I rode down to Rainbow to restock the kitchen, and came back – slightly uphill all the way – with a fairly heavy pack (the nearest Trader Joe’s is about the same distance, but uphill on the way out, and downhill with the full load, so I am alternating).

Then it was time to have elevenses – coffee and toast – and do some work on the Suzuki Roshi archive. This is going to be publicly launched soon, and I am trying to make sure that all the elements are organised as best they can be.

I ate lunch before my Within class, as I usually do for lunchtime engagements: I would rather be sitting on a full stomach than an empty one (even though traditionally you don’t eat right before sitting, so I try to be able to digest for half an hour or so). The half-hour sit was a somewhat typical progression from having many thoughts to feeling quite sleepy.

It was a beautiful afternoon for a short ride, and I took myself up to Golden Gate Heights, to refamiliarise myself with some of the roads I will be using for the next roam. I discovered that one of my favourite stretches of off-road roaming, the steep dune of Hawk Hill, was all cordoned off, so I shall have to plan a slightly different route.

After showering and shaving my head, and some tea and toast, I walked the few blocks down to the Castro farmers’ market. This was the one I used to go to before moving a year ago. It was nice to be remembered by some of the vendors when I started going back, and I have met people I know through Zen Center the last few weeks down there. My dinner was a bagel and avocado, and various pieces of fruit, all bought from the market.

And then I had time to watch England’s tough World Cup qualifier against Poland before dharma sister Kim came over to sit and listen to a couple of short pieces of Suzuki Roshi’s instructions from an early sesshin. This is something we have started doing since I moved closer to where she lives: zazen, listening to Suzuki Roshi, and then discussing what he said, followed by a glass of wine and a good old natter. A lovely end to a very agreeable day.

The start of the trail to Lobos Creek, from the roam on Saturday
Morning mist on Skyline, Sunday morning.
I love getting out at first light, especially when the sunrise is as spectacular as the one on Labor Day.