Angie Boissevain

‘Zazen practice brings us back to our only-ness, our aloneness, our oneness. It helps us face the lies and the sometimes difficult truth of how our life is going.  Even when we discover mistakes and lies we’ve been hiding from our self, in the end there’s a tremendous freshness and a great relief to be honest.  ….Our only activity is to return to the present, to be this right now place.’ (Seeds of Virtue, Seeds of Change)

Thich Nhat Hanh

‘If we are washing dishes and thinking of others who are enjoying themselves doing nothing, we cannot enjoy washing the dishes. We may have a few clean dishes afterwards, but our happiness is smaller than one teaspoon. If however, we wash the dishes with a serene mind, our happiness will be boundless. This is already liberation.’ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)

Obviously, this does not just apply to washing dishes.

Teijo Munnich

‘In order to awaken to the truth of life and reality, we first have to become free of our self-imposed restrictions, the delusions which cause us to adhere to the belief that there is something to depend upon that is lasting and that our life is in some way unique. Recognizing impermanence, we are aware of the infinite possibilities that are always present in life, rather than being stuck in our perceptions of what is possible. Being aware of interconnectedness, we naturally experience the support of everything in life. That is what we awaken to and return to in zazen. And this is called jijuyu zanmai.’ (Receiving the Marrow)

This is a repost – as busy as I am right now, one of the things that have been put to one side is spending a morning reading dharma books and lining up posts for a week or two. Still, as I have said before, with almost 2100 posts on here, there is a lot that I feel is worth revisiting.

I think I read this differently to how I did five years ago. There is a way that jijuyu zanmai feels more instinctive than it did then, at least at good moments.


Sitting silent late at night in a mountain shrine
Desolate and deserted is just the way it is.
Why does the west wind stir the forest trees?
Suddenly a wild goose cry fills the sky.

Blue Skies

Like a switch being flipped, the fog burned off on Thursday, and the skies cleared. Friday was warm and windless. Since it was the only morning this week I had free to ride, I was happy to get up San Bruno Mountain. On the way up, I discovered, as I used to on my pilgrimages to Mount Diablo, that I crossed a temperature layer. It was much warmer closer to the summit, just as, the last time I was there, the fog got denser and the wind stronger. I am not sure exactly what altitude it was, but it was abundantly evident on the way down again as well, as I felt the air get several degrees cooler.

I am busy trying to arrange my next housing situation at the moment, and it has taken a lot of energy this week. I have now seen two places that I like, so I hope that I can land in one of them. Every time I am asked for pay stubs, I wonder, which job? I have three places that pay me regularly, and four or five that I invoice, as well as jobs that I get paid for directly. While I feel pretty flush at the moment, I don’t know how that holds up to the gimlet eye of the San Francisco housing market. And, this time around, I am not ready to leave the city. Not when I have just got the roams going in person again, even if just about everything else is remote. Speaking of which, if you read this early enough on Saturday, you can join me as I offer zazen instruction via the SFZC online zendo at 8:10 local time.

Taking the ferry on a gloomy Thursday morning, when I was starting to feel that I had had enough of the fog.
Brighter on Thursday afternoon on the way back.
Clear skies from the top of San Bruno Mountain on Friday morning.

Jakusho Kwong

‘You could say when there is this—you, the personal you— there is that; this is karma. This is cause and effect. You are thinking you know who you are, but in the Buddhadharma you are not who you think you are. This is the saving grace. 

So again, when this—the I am—appears, that appears, so we have the subject and the object—the duality which creates the world of suffering. 

In meditation, when there is not this, there is not that. It means that nothing disappears, nothing is disappearing. But when I am not who I think I am, then those things, those objects outside of me, are not what they seem to be. We’ve become very attached and fixed on those objects, we’ve begun comparing, we’ve begun liking. We can like or dislike, but all this causes karma. 

Finally, when there is no longer this—no Roshi, not even Bill [chuckles]—when there’s no longer this there’s no longer that. We see the same world but in a completely different way. We’re free from that suffering.’ (from the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center newsletter) 

Sensei Alex Kakuyo

‘A rough translation of ‘intoku’ is, “good done in secret”.  It epitomizes the Buddhist ideal that we should do good works without expectation of reward. This is empowering because a sad fact of life is that doing the right thing is no guarantee of a good outcome.  When this happens it can be easy to think, “Why did this happen to me?” or “I don’t deserve this.”

But intoku teaches us that we don’t do good deeds in the hopes of a reward.  Instead we do them because the deed itself is the reward.  The feeling that comes from helping someone in need is priceless. More importantly, it’s very easy to do. 

We can listen intently while someone talks about their day, compliment a friend on their outfit, or simply refill the coffee pot at work when it’s empty.  This practice isn’t about doing something big and flashy.  Instead, it’s about constantly being on the look out for small things we can do to make life nicer for both ourselves and the people around us.  In this way, we make the world warmer, and more welcoming for everyone.’ (from The Same Old Zen)

This is a very sweet article that I have shared with my student group; it also talks about menmitsu (careful attention to detail) and shojin (variously translated as zeal, diligence or joyful effort). I remember reading stories of monks who would get up before everyone else in the monastery (which is very early indeed) to clean the toilets. But you don’t need to go that far. A more practical example from my time at Zen Center was changing the toilet paper roll when it was finished so that the next person didn’t have to – definitely not big or flashy.


‘Students of the Way, you must not cling to your own personal views. Even though you may understand, you should search widely for a good teacher and examine the sayings of the old Masters if you feel there is something lacking or that there is some understanding superior to your own. Yet you must not cling to the words of the old sages either; they too, may not be right. Even if you believe them, you should be alert so that, in the event that something superior comes along, you may follow that.’ (Shobogenzo Zuimonki)

The key word here, as usual, is ‘cling.’

Soft Attention

Someone who has been attending perhaps my favourite ongoing corporate meditation group forwarded me an article the other day that sent me on a little adventure reading about ‘soft fascination.’ When I discussed the notion with a couple of people who came on last Saturday’s roam, their response was pretty much, well, we know that.

The basic idea is that we can feel good in the kind of environment that doesn’t require constant vigilance and evaluation, but is familiar and enjoyable; where the mind can take in what surrounds it in a way that recharges rather than depletes. In other words, nature fits the bill. As does meditation. So unsurprisingly, experienced participants in Roaming Zen don’t feel they need a particular terminology, but know they enjoy the experience.

And, I also know that for the dubious, and the sceptical, and those who set store by data and science, anything they can put a name to helps them along the way. I also think it is what Suzuki Roshi was pointing to in the post from Saturday. To stretch it a little, though it made perfect sense to me while I was riding my bike on Sunday morning, it is just as Dogen reminds us: ‘although actualised immediately, the inconceivable may not be distinctly apparent.’

One of the places we got to practise some soft attention on the roam – Marshall’s Beach.
We also sat at the National Cemetery overlook.
The Bay Trail provides regular opportunities for soft attention – wherever I can ride without cars, I feel more able to relax and enjoy the scenery.


A fish swims, making the water murky.
A bird flies, shedding its feathers.
The ultimate mirror is difficult to escape.
The great void is boundless.
Once you go, you go endlessly.
By virtue of causation, the one who practices completely
lives five hundred lifetimes.
Thunder cracks the mountains, and storms shake the ocean.
The color of purified gold does not change.