Thursday, 27 April 2017


109. Given the great emphasis placed on 'sitting meditation' in Zen we might tend to forget that a solitary walk in the forest can be an excellent practice.

Friday, 21 April 2017


108. With the world facing so many problems we might wonder about Zen's capacity to help. By way of an initial response let us note that a discipline that works to lessen the grip of greed, hatred and ignorance on individuals and communities is no small contribution.

Monday, 17 April 2017


107. The personal realization that is confirmed and authenticated in the relationship of master and disciple may bear fruit in a variety of ways. In the case of Mahakashyapa, he was entrusted with a formal teaching role and was commissioned to continue the Buddha's work in that capacity. Teaching, then, was the special service that he was called to perform for the Buddha's sangha. But there are other important ways of rendering service to the sangha. For example, organizing and running a sesshin requires the co-operation of a number of sangha members. We bring our individual gifts and talents to the sangha. None of these gifts are to be looked down on just because they are exercised behind the scenes. Moreover, in the history of Zen there are those who, once they have been confirmed and authenticated by their master, disappear into the mountains, never to be heard of again.

Monday, 10 April 2017


106. The Dharma transmitted by the Buddha is vast and fathomless. It is lovely in the beginning, lovely in the middle, lovely in the ending. Entering this lovely Dharma we enter the realm of mystery, and becoming intimate with this mystery we find that it is graciousness. 

Sunday, 9 April 2017


105. Abiding beyond words, one is able to embrace words, use words, and not be caught by words.Hence the power of the Buddha's every word and gesture.

Friday, 7 April 2017


104. Our attachment to words, concepts and doctrines is tenacious. We seize upon the Buddha's words and phrases and demand definitions and explanations. We demand rational accounts of what is meant by such terms as 'Dharma', 'Dharma Eye', Dharma Gate', etc. We assume that we can grasp the Dharma in the logical formulations of doctrine. We want it all spelt out in doctrinal statements. We want to get our heads around what the Buddha says while we remain puzzled by what he shows and his disciple Mahakashyapa sees. We cling to words like Dharma and Nirvana but avert our eyes from such expressions as 'independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine'. We become fascinated by the possibilities that a commentator like Mumon Ekai raises when he says: 'If, however, everyone in the audience had laughed, how could he have transmitted his True Eye? And again, if Mahakashyapa had not smiled, how could the Buddha have transmitted it?' And so we run off at a tangent to the Buddha's teaching and lose ourselves in a labyrinth of 'what ifs'. Here we would do well to call to mind Wittgenstein's remark (a scandalous remark in that it was made in the context of a philosophy class): 'Don't think, look!' 

Thursday, 6 April 2017


103. The contrast between the Buddha's silent and spoken teaching is stark. It might put us in mind of the philosopher Wittgenstein's distinction between 'showing' and 'saying'. He remarks: 'What can be shown, cannot be said'. In spelling out for the assembly what had just transpired between himself and Mahakashyapa, the Buddha utilises words that conjure up concepts, concepts that cry out for formulation in doctrinal statements. But having spoken of the True Dharma Eye, the Subtle Dharma Gate, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, and the True Form of the Formless, the Buddha suddenly kicks away this ladder of abstract terms with his declaration that the Dharma is 'independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine'. Thus he points us back to what was shown in the silent presentation of the flower and Mahakashyapa's responsive smile. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017


102. The koan story of the Buddha's transmission of his Dharma to Mahakashyapa has two parts. The first part presents us with the picture of a silent heart-mind to heart-mind transmission. In the second part the Buddha speaks to the assembled monks and tells them what has just transpired. In doing this he reminds them that as the Buddha he possesses 'the True Dharma Eye, the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana, the True Form of the Formless, and the Subtle Dharma Gate'. He then adds that what he has as the Buddha is 'independent of words and transmitted beyond doctrine'. And just so that they don't miss the point of what took place in the in-between of the held-up-flower and Mahakashyapa's broad smile, he says explicitly that 'this [my Dharma] I have entrusted to Mahakashyapa'.
     The Buddha's words are for the benefit of all those who remained (and remain) in dumb, uncomprehending silence at his presentation of the flower. The Buddha's grandmotherly approach here has earned for him a sarcastic comment from the 13th century master Mumon Ekai, who writes: 'Golden-faced Gautama really disregarded his listeners. He made the good look bad and sold dog's meat labeled as mutton'. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017


101. It is said that for the wise, one word is enough. For Mahakashyapa, the Buddha's silent presentation of a flower was enough. For the rest of us, however, we demand lengthy explanations of what constitutes the True Dharma Eye, not to mention doctrinal formulations concerning the Marvelous Mind of Nirvana. We also engage in endless philosophical investigations into the True Form of the Formless and the Subtle Dharma Gate. Yet sooner or later we must come to the recognition that what the Buddha has to transmit is independent of words and way beyond doctrine. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017


100. The account of the Buddha's transmission to Mahakashyapa may have no basis in history. From the Zen point of view this is not important. For the koan presents us with a contemporary event. As we enter into the koan and become intimate with it we find ourselves getting caught up in a Dharma transmission happening right here, right now, in our very own assembly. Here and now we are present with the Buddha on Mount Grdhrakuta and together with those other disciples of long ago we await with attentive ears the teaching he will give. But if we listen only with our ears we will remain, like those others, in dumb and unresponsive silence. For the Buddha in holding up a flower makes a visual presentation and we, fixed in our ways, fail to hear with our eyes or see with our ears. Only Mahakashyapa is not caught by hearing alone but has his eyes wide open to what is being offered in the here and now, in this moment's privileged encounter with the Thusness of the True Self. His response, a broad smile, is as sudden as it is spontaneous. It is also silent, as with the rest of the disciples, but his silence is not a dumb, stunned silence. Rather, it is full of meaning and understanding. His beaming, smiling, silent response is seen by the Buddha, recognised and acknowledged in a heart-mind to heart-mind transmission that has no need of words.