Saturday, 30 December 2017


185. Having trouble accepting that everyday is a good day? Then try this: everyday we can do some good.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017


184. The five-year-old was out of bed early on Christmas morning. First she had to check to see if Santa had eaten and drunk what she had left for him. Next, she needed to decipher the note Santa had written her in his shaky handwriting. Then it was into the Santa Bag: of all the items (toys, trinkets, lollies) she found, it was a kind of view finder gadget that most took her fancy. Looking into the eyepiece she exclaimed: 'Wow! Jupiter! Wow! a meteorite! Wow! the Milky Way!' She kept this up for several minutes. Joshu would have been spellbound, delighted, and greatly enlightened.   

Monday, 25 December 2017


183. Like Joshu, am I prepared to learn from the child that has something to teach me? Can I go further and learn from a baby sleeping in its mother's arms? Practising shikantaza, let my heart have no lofty ambitions. Let my eyes not look too high. Let me not be concerned with great affairs or with marvels beyond my reach. Let me find (like the Hebrew psalmist) that it is enough for me to keep myself tranquil and quiet, the picture of a baby resting in its mother's arms. Here I am content as a child that has been weaned.

Sunday, 24 December 2017


182. When Master Joshu was about sixty years old he spent some time in mourning for his teacher who had just died. Then he set out on pilgrimage to various temples and monasteries throughout China. His wanderings lasted twenty years. His purpose was to deepen and clarify his own understanding. At the start of his traveling he had declared, 'If I meet an elderly man who needs my teaching, I will instruct him. If I meet a child who has something to teach me, I will become his disciple'. What would he have done had he chanced upon a stable in which there was a newborn infant boy asleep in a manger and overhead a star shining bright?

Thursday, 21 December 2017


181. The old Ch'an master Ummon once addressed his disciples thus: 'I do not ask you about the fifteenth of the month. Come, give me a word about after the fifteenth'. None of his disciples could respond and so he answered for them, saying 'everyday is a good day'. No doubt many of us find both question and answer to be equally opaque. It might help if we call to mind those words of a sutra that go something like this: 'Past mind cannot be grasped. Future mind cannot be grasped. Present mind cannot be grasped'.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017


180. The saying 'everyday is a good day' can sound like a piece of cheap optimism. But in Zen practice it functions as a koan, an opening into and an expression of the True Self. Becoming intimate with this koan in the silence (and struggle) of zazen, the practitioner is drawn into the mystery that embraces tears and laughter, success and failure, health and sickness, virtue and vice, wholeness and brokenness. It is one thing to say 'every day is a good day' but something altogether different to genuinely and deeply realise that this is in fact the case.  

Sunday, 17 December 2017


179. Why did Master Ganto laugh out loud? It seems that when he had asked a visiting monk where he had come from, the monk had replied 'from the western capital'. The monk's response suggests that he felt himself to be someone of standing, coming as he did from the city that was the seat of power, (site of the imperial palace, residence of Emperor Kiso). Picking up on this Ganto inquired about a recent rebellion that saw the palace captured and the emperor barely escaping with his life; many of his family were massacred. The rebellion was led by Koso, famed for his possession of a fabled sword. Said to have fallen from heaven, it bore the inscription 'Heaven gives this to Koso'. Within four years Koso had been killed and his followers subjugated. So a hot question following Koso's death concerned the whereabouts of his famous sword. Ganto, noticing how his visitor was full of his own importance, cheekily asked 'did you get the sword?' When the monk replied that he does in fact possess the sword, Ganto stretched out his neck and let out a great cry. With this submissive gesture Ganto was offering the monk an opportunity to demonstrate the great power associated with Koso's sword. But instead of wielding the fabled sword, the monk could only slap Ganto with a wet lettuce leaf with his saying,  'the master's head has fallen'. No wonder Ganto laughed out loud. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017


178. Some words from Zen Master AMA Samy: 'When we look around the world, and look into ourselves, we can easily fall into despair and despondency .... Cynicism and despair can easily become our refuge; it is the cave of illusion and darkness from which it is not easy to come out once you fall into it .... Some pseudo masters will say that this world filled with suffering and evil is only illusion, maya, that to be enlightened is to discard this world as an illusory dream, and that there is nobody who suffers and nobody who inflicts suffering. Be warned against such false prophets. The 'Four Great Vows' are the way to keep us sane and on the right path; they are the forms of faith, trust, hope and love. When ultimate reality is not seen and experienced as goodness, beauty and truth, then might becomes right and despair clouds our hearts and minds.'

Wednesday, 13 December 2017


177. Can anyone, in this day and age, dare to say 'everyday is a good day'? Yet that is exactly what the young Jewish woman Etty Hillesum found herself saying in the transit camp she described as 'hell' and just before she was shipped off to her death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. She wrote:
'I have already died a thousand deaths in a thousand concentration camps - and yet I find life beautiful and meaningful. From minute to minute .... Somewhere there is something inside me that will never desert me again. I cannot find the right words for the radiant feeling inside me, which encompasses but is untouched by all the suffering and violence'.

Friday, 8 December 2017


176. The death of a dharma brother or sister is always sad. But when it is by their own hand it is tragic. Our thoughts fly at once to the grieving spouse and the children suddenly made fatherless. Our hope is that they will find support and solace in the love and care of family and friends. At the same time we cannot help but try to imagine the desperate anguish that drove our brother to perhaps not so much take his life as to bring to an end the suffering that he evidently found so unbearable. We can only surmise that he felt that he could 'not live this tormented mind/ With this tormented mind tormenting yet'. In the face of this much sadness, suffering and tragedy, would our old Zen master of long ago still dare to claim that 'everyday is a good day'?

Wednesday, 6 December 2017


175. Singing, dancing, laughter: can these really be 'the voice of the Law'? How can this be in the face of poverty, injustice, sickness and death? Sad, even tragic, events continue to intrude into our lives on a daily basis. It has been said that after Auschwitz there can be no poetry. But seventy odd years have passed since Auschwitz and, in spite of it, we have somehow managed to pick ourselves up and have found ourselves once more singing and dancing and laughing. Even in the midst of disasters and the experience of horrifying crimes, it seems that the words of a medieval Christian mystic somehow resonate with us still. Her words: 'all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well'. And an old Zen master from the past would insist that 'every day is a good day'.