Tuesday, 29 September 2015


3. Someone has asked, 'Does a Zen Master give teachings?' As to what the questioner meant by 'teachings' is not clear. Assuming that he or she was thinking of something like 'a body of doctrine', and allowing that with regard to Zen doctrine 'both speech and silence are faulty', the short answer would have to be 'no'. What the Zen Master does is introduce the beginner to a practice under the Master's personal guidance and in the context of a 'sangha' or community. Central to this practice is a very formal type of sitting meditation called 'zazen'. Extended periods of sitting meditation are relieved by shorter periods of walking meditation called 'kinhin'. These disciplines of sitting and walking meditation are supported by a set of rituals that foster an atmosphere of mindfulness conducive to the practice of meditative inquiry. The silence of this inquiry is offset and in a sense reinforced by sessions of chanting and the recitation of Zen Buddhist sacred texts. The Zen Master's 'teachings' are to be found in the way the Master guides the 'sangha' as a whole and its members individually. This guidance finds formal expression in the Master's talks to the 'sangha' called 'teisho' and in his or her private interviews called 'dokusan'.

Monday, 21 September 2015


(2) Zen talk can be dangerous. An ancient master made a mistake in speaking and was re-born five hundred times as a fox. Another master, after writing up his insights regarding the Heart-Mind of Zen, found himself exclaiming, 'Words! The Way is beyond language'. Faced with what is 'beyond language' we might best listen to the philosopher Wittgenstein who said, 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent'. Indeed silence was the Buddha's response to the non-Buddhist philosopher who put this request, 'I do not ask for words. I do not ask for non-words'. Nevertheless, a Zen Master will demand of us, 'Say something! Say something!' And here we find ourselves in a double bind. For even to say true things about the Great Matter of Zen is somehow to get it wrong. As one nameless monk put it a long time ago,'Both speech and silence are faulty. Speech spoils the transcendence, and silence spoils its manifestation'. And still the Master demands of us, 'Say something! Say something!'

Wednesday, 16 September 2015


1. In Zen we are attempting to uncover our original mind. A master might say, 'Show me your face before your parents met !' Novice, or seasoned practitioner, we must bring to our daily practice the qualities of a beginner's mind. Here, 'not knowing is most intimate'. Each morning we set out for the very first time on the path that has no end. And this continually renewed setting out is our attempt to begin that which has no beginning. Each moment, each breathing moment, is our introduction to the path (the way of the Awakened One), the path that has neither beginning nor end. And yet, as Master Mumon writes, 'Before a step is taken, the goal is reached'.