Friday, 14 December 2018

275. ZEN REMARKS

275. In Sengcan's enlightenment poem Xinxinming, we read that 'if the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease'. This saying, of course, should not be taken literally for, as many have found, when they don't sleep they start to hallucinate. No, Sengcan's unsleeping eye is a metaphor for the awakened self which sees things for what they are, just as they are. The injunction to 'stay awake' is a constant across a number of spiritual, religious and philosophical traditions.  

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

274. ZEN REMARKS

274. Someone sent a note to a master asking, 'Does my True Face look the same as your True Face?' The master replied, 'Only if you're good looking'.

Monday, 10 December 2018

273. ZEN REMARKS

273. Take the question, 'What is the Bodhisatva's Gate to the One and the Many?' A number of Bodhisatvas took up this question and each gave a response in a few well chosen words. Even Manjusri felt compelled to express his penetrating insight in a verbal formula. Only Vimalakirti, when directly asked to say something, held his tongue. And so it is that even today, after so many centuries, we find our ears still ringing to the thunder clap of his silence.   

Friday, 16 November 2018

272. ZEN REMARKS

272. Getting started on the path of Zen would seem to be easy enough. As one Zen worthy put it, this path can be 'approached in a thousand ways'. Another master, when questioned by a would-be disciple about how he might enter Zen, pointed to a roaring mountain stream and asked, 'Do you hear the sound of that stream?' When the disciple said 'Yes', the master said, 'Enter there'. So if getting into Zen is as simple and easy as that, why do we look for a teacher, join a meditation group, read lots of books, practise rituals and chants and sit for long periods in a prescribed zazen posture?

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

271. ZEN REMARKS

271. After dinner I do the washing-up. Just washing cups and saucers, knives and forks, plates and bowls, pots and pans. Yes, just washing-up. No running commentary.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

270. ZEN REMARKS

270. Anthony de Mello draws a distinction between a 'worldly feeling' and a 'soul-feeling'. A 'worldly feeling', he says, arises out of self-glorification and self-promotion. Examples of the types of experience that can trigger worldly feelings relate the self to other people in a search for their praise, their approval, their acceptance. By contrast, a 'soul-feeling' is the fruit of self-fulfillment. Examples of experiences that bear fruit in soul-feeling are of a disinterested nature, such as the contemplation of a sunset, a stroll along the beach, the thorough enjoyment of a book.

Friday, 26 October 2018

269. ZEN REMARKS

269. Look at the flower and see for yourself that it is red (or yellow or purple or white). Don't just take my word for it. Here, drink some water and decide for yourself if it is cool or warm. And while Zen worthies insist on the importance of not thinking they also warn us against rejecting the world of senses and ideas. Stay with the tension between holding fast and letting go.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

268. ZEN REMARKS

268. Directives like 'cut off the mind road' and 'stop talking and thinking' have earned for Zen a reputation for anti-intellectualism. Such directives, however, have to do with the practice of zazen and should not be taken as representing a blanket ban on philosophical reflection and scholarly research. Even Zen's apparent rejection of philosophy is a philosophical position that recognises both the power and limitation of discursive thought. Faced with the great questions of life and death the Zen philosopher will respect Wittgenstein's dictum: 'Don't think, look!' 

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

267. ZEN REMARKS

267. Bringing your attention to the hara, your unmoving centre, the question will arise, 'Who is doing this?' Sit with this question but don't try to figure it out discursively. Rather, wait for the answer to come, of its own accord, and in its own time. Here it is a case of being at one with the trusting mind. 

Sunday, 21 October 2018

266. ZEN REMARKS

266. In Sengcan's Xinxinming we find the line 'Go beyond both appearance and emptiness and find the unmoving center'. How can we find this unmoving centre that is beyond both appearance and emptiness? To do so our tendency is to engage in a process of introspection. But Zen down through the centuries would have us do something much more physical. For Zen, the unmoving centre is located in the hara, the Japanese word for the lower abdomen. In zazen place the whole of your attention there. 

Friday, 12 October 2018

265. ZEN REMARKS

265. Master Mumon Ekai says that it is of 'the utmost importance' that we 'cut off the mind road' if we want to attain 'subtle realization'. But what is meant by the expression 'cut off the mind road'? It means that we 'must completely cut off the way of thinking'. And this, of course, cannot be achieved if we attempt to go about it as a mental exercise for, as Sengcan reminds us, 'to seek mind with the discriminating mind is the greatest of all mistakes'. Hence Mumon's insistence on the physicality of our practice. He says: 'Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin'. To this end, sitting in the prescribed meditation posture is a potent reminder that Zen is an embodied practice. 

Monday, 8 October 2018

264. ZEN REMARKS

264. A disciple quotes Uchiyama to the effect that 'we should open the hand of thought'. The idea is that we should let all thoughts drop away. But I would say: 'be open to the hand of thought'. The thoughtful hand, the practised hand, has much to teach about the limits of the discriminating mind.

Friday, 5 October 2018

263. ZEN REMARKS

263. Again I pitch my tent at Kodoji, in the bush at Gorricks Run:

                    a raucous laughter
                     breaks upon these wild hills
                     waking up the dawn 

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

262. ZEN REMARKS

262. Bodhidharma says: 'Without depending on words and letters'. Sengcan says: 'The Way is beyond language' and 'The more you talk and think about it, the further astray you wander from the truth'. And again: 'Stop talking and thinking, and there is nothing you will not be able to know'. Mumon Ekai says: 'you must completely cut off the way of thinking'. The teaching of these ancient masters is echoed in the words of Mu Soeng, a contemporary Buddhist scholar, when he says: ' ... cultivation and realization of the Great Way is not dependent on words and verbal understanding'.
     We have learnt all this through the words and writings of these various authorities! Or have we?

Sunday, 23 September 2018

261. ZEN REMARKS

261. The sixth century Chinese master Sengcan makes the seemingly outlandish claim that if you 'stop talking and thinking' then 'there is nothing you will not be able to know'. What could this possibly mean?

Sunday, 9 September 2018

260. ZEN REMARKS

260. Alone in the bush at Gorricks Run:

                    mid-night wake-up call -
                    thunder lightning rain and hail
                    beat upon my tent


                    high hills half hidden
                    in this early morning mist -
                    a zen ink painting

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

259. ZEN REMARKS

259. Sitting in the prescribed meditation posture best enables you to 'arouse your entire body' with its many parts ('its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin'). But more is required than physical involvement. You must also 'summon up a spirit of great doubt'. You must come face to face with your pure, unformulated question, your wonderment at life, the world, and all it contains. With both body and mind fully engaged, you must now concentrate, focus, bring all your energies to bear 'on this one word "Mu"'. And here you will find yourself asking, perhaps almost despairingly, 'What is Mu?' 

Monday, 3 September 2018

258. ZEN REMARKS

258. Just sitting and paying attention to ... what? Well, there's a lot going on: sensations, perceptions, mental reactions, consciousness. The 'ten thousand things' are right here, in this place, at this very moment. (And you thought 'they' were all 'out there'.) But where is Oneness?

Sunday, 2 September 2018

257. ZEN REMARKS

257. Master Sengcan writes: 'Do not search for the truth; only cease to hold opinions'. This might sound like giving up on Truth (with a capital T). But this is not so. Rather it would have us examine all those 'truths' that we think we know and see just how many of them are simply opinions. Here  Plato's theory of knowledge might prove helpful. For him opinion, no matter how well informed, does not rise to the level of knowledge. Having tested the knowledge content of our various opinions let us go on to see just what we really know about the big issues in life: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Then we should be in a better position to see where we stand in relation to Truth.  

Saturday, 1 September 2018

256. ZEN REMARKS

256. Go to the circus and watch the trapeze artists in action - fliers and catchers. Learn about letting-go and holding-firm.  

Thursday, 30 August 2018

255. ZEN REMARKS

255. Zazen is an embodied form of meditation in which we 'cut off the way of thinking' ( Master Mumon). And the way to do this, according to Mumon, is to 'arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin'. Leaving aside Mumon's counting of body parts, we focus on what is involved in arousing the entire body. And what is needed here is, in the words of the philosopher Izutsu, 'the dynamic power of concentration'. This whole body practice of zazen is nothing less than the embodiment of mind through the development of samadhi power. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

254. ZEN REMARKS

254. Sitting quietly with no goal. Just paying attention to the sitting. Feeling embodied in this sitting here, in this place, now. What is sitting? Who is sitting? Feeling tension, feeling relaxation. Noticing sounds. Noticing silence. Noticing sensations, thoughts, desires. Watching what comes, what goes. Nothing seems to be happening (yet there is breathing in, breathing out, the pulsing of the heart, the racket of tinnitus, the tensing of muscles, the relaxing of muscles, the seeing of sights, the hearing of sounds). Sensing time, duration. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

253. ZEN REMARKS

253. The sixth century master Sengcan, author of the Xinxinming, writes of 'the clinging needs of the ignorant'. Who are the ignorant? Those who 'seek Mind with the discriminating mind'. 

Friday, 17 August 2018

252. ZEN REMARKS

252. If I would experience the freedom that the Zen practitioner aspires to, I must shatter the illusion that I am an isolated, separate, independent, autonomous self. Just sitting still and paying attention to my breath, to my breathing in, my breathing out, I come to appreciate that I have my being from 'other'. Not a bad place to start.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

251. ZEN REMARKS

251. How can I know if my 'unified mind' is in 'accord with the Way'? Some indications: freedom from self-centered striving; no clinging to my preferences; not holding onto opinions. And perhaps the recognition that I am not the best judge as to my freedom from preferences and opinions. Brothers and sisters in the sangha can be a great help here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

250. ZEN REMARKS

250. The claim for the benefit of Zen practice is huge. It is nothing less than being 'released from all entanglements'. Zen would have us 'freed from bondage' and this 'with a single stroke'. 

Monday, 13 August 2018

249. ZEN REMARKS

249. The unified mind in accord with the Way presents the seamless integration of body-heart-mind. Here the cognitive, affective and behavioural aspects of the self function together as an harmonious whole. To attain and maintain such a state calls for ongoing committed practice. And so we chant in the 'Four Great Vows': 'Though the Way of the Enlightened One is without end, I vow to walk all along the Way'.  

248. ZEN REMARKS

248. Developing samadhi power, that is, learning to focus and concentrate and so unify the mind, is a necessary condition for coming to Enlightenment-Realization. But it is not sufficient. If the unified mind is not in accord with the Way we will continue to be caught in 'self-centered striving'.  

Saturday, 11 August 2018

247. ZEN REMARKS

247. Body awareness. Heart awareness. Mind awareness. Are these three or are they one? Might we speak of body-heart-mind? And what of the unified mind? Is it inclusive of body and heart? And what's it worth if it is not in accord with the Way?

Friday, 10 August 2018

246. ZEN REMARKS

246. Just sitting. Just watching the breath. Just breathing in. Just breathing out. The sheer wonder of it.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

245. ZEN REMARKS

245. The word 'rice', in the literature of Zen, is often used to symbolize Enlightenment-Realization. With this in mind consider the saying, 'sand in the rice, thorns in the mud'.

Monday, 6 August 2018

244. ZEN REMARKS

244. Some are sceptical when they hear stories about Jesus walking on water. In Zen, however, this is our everyday practice. Standing nowhere let your mind come forth! 

Friday, 27 July 2018

243. ZEN REMARKS

243. The fifth of Dongshan's 'Five Degrees of the Phenomenon and the Real' is called 'Arriving within Together' or, in another version, 'Arriving at Concurrence'. It refers to going beyond the polarities of the phenomenal and the real. One might respond as follows:

At the end of the working day
I jostle with the best of them
in the peak-hour rush for a train.
At this hour everyone is intent on leaving the city,
not just for a quieter life
but to return home and sit at ease
at one's own kitchen table.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

242. ZEN REMARKS

242. When he comes to speak of 'proceeding within phenomena',  Dongshan says it is 'like two crossed swords' where 'neither permits retreat'. Here the self must act in 'suchness', that is, must be totally immersed in the phenomenal world of action. See the following:

Looking right left and right again
an old fellow must keep his wits about him
when crossing to the other side
of a busy city street. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

241. ZEN REMARKS

241. What about Dongshan's 'Emerging within the universal'?

With neither road nor dust
nor emperor's word to avoid
the non poet offers these words
with no thought for eloquence.

Monday, 23 July 2018

240. ZEN REMARKS

240. Responding to Dongshan's 'The universal within the phenomenon':

With day breaking all about her
this old woman forgets being old, being woman
and sees in the ten thousand things her own true face
- no need for make-up now.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

239. ZEN REMARKS

239. A verse for Dongshan's 'The phenomenon within the universal':

Meeting the other
faceless shapeless
in the pitch black of a moonless night -
no wonder there is no recognition.
And yet ... And yet ...

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

238. ZEN REMARKS

238. What was Rinzai's great enlightenment? We are not told but it seems that he somehow realized that his master's teaching didn't amount to  very much! Perhaps he came to see that, as with Zen itself, there was nothing to it at all. 

Saturday, 14 July 2018

237. ZEN REMARKS

237. Who is hot? Who is cold? I call to mind a Christian 'koan' that goes something like this: because you are neither hot nor cold I will begin to vomit you out of my mouth.

Friday, 13 July 2018

236. ZEN REMARKS

236. When Dongshan says, 'kill yourself with cold', he does not mean for us to take him literally. This saying of his has come down to us in the literary form of the koan. And koans bear on enlightened understanding and behaviour. Here we would do well to question ourselves about the identity of the self that is to be killed with cold. Furthermore, we can examine our attitude to suffering and whether we think we can escape it entirely. And if it can't be avoided or escaped, what then? Kill yourself with cold, with heat! 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

235. ZEN REMARKS

235. Traveling from the summer heat of the Indian city of Tiruchirrapalli to the wintry nights of Australia's Northern Tablelands, this patch-robe mendicant calls to mind old Master Dongshan and his reply to the monk who asked about how he could avoid heat and cold. Dongshan said: 'When it's cold, kill yourself with cold. When it's hot, kill yourself with heat' (see Hekiganroku, Case 43). 

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

234. ZEN REMARKS

234. Zen and the art of traveling: abide where there is no abiding.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Monday, 25 June 2018

231. ZEN REMARKS

231. High in the mountains
         ten days silently sitting -
         nothing gained at all.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

230. ZEN REMARKS

230. Visa passport packed
         the long journey lies ahead -
         Hurry up and wait.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

229. ZEN REMARKS

229. Want to practise Zen but can't live without preferences? Take heart. Buddhist scholar Mu Soeng introduces a modifier to the opening line of the 'Xinxinming'. So now it reads: 'The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no  (addictive) preferences'.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

228. ZEN REMARKS

228. It is said that 'the Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences'. If this is so then for many of us it must be very difficult indeed.

Friday, 8 June 2018

227. ZEN REMARKS

227. Does the enlightened Zen master have no problems? Feel no pain? Sleep soundly every night? Is he or she immune to the attractive power of the beautiful other? See the following:

          Awake and alone
          listening. The dark surround
          ringing in my ears. 

Thursday, 7 June 2018

226. ZEN REMARKS

226. In a sense, the Zen practitioner sets out, not to win, but to lose. Unless the wheat grain dies ...

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

225. ZEN REMARKS

225. Some reminders: seek without seeking, strive without striving, care without caring.

Monday, 28 May 2018

224. ZEN REMARKS

224. It might be said that the work of the Zen master, like that of Wittgenstein's philosopher, is to assemble reminders for a particular purpose. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

223. ZEN REMARKS

223. What is your aim in Zen? To release the goose from the jar it was raised in  (without damage to either jar or goose).

Friday, 25 May 2018

222. ZEN REMARKS

222. Finding oneself suddenly and unexpectedly at the top of the hundred-foot-pole, what is one to do? Clamber back down as quickly as possible? Sit tight and enjoy the view? Step off the pole? Step beyond the pole? 

Monday, 21 May 2018

221. ZEN REMARKS

221. How manifest the Dharma-body in the ten directions? I think of Layman Pang and his chopping wood and drawing water.  

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

220. ZEN REMARKS


220. Stepping from the top of the hundred foot pole, the practitioner must go even further and manifest the Dharma-body in the ten directions. So much for solipsism.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

219. ZEN REMARKS

219. While in Zen Enlightenment the practitioner comes to a realization of Emptiness, there is yet one further step to be taken. And that is the step from the top of the hundred foot pole. 

Saturday, 12 May 2018

218. ZEN REMARKS

218. Zen enlightenment entails the realization of Emptiness. This realization of Emptiness plunges the practitioner deep down into a realm of mystery, the mystery that encompasses all of our being-in-the-world. Immersed in this mystery the Zen practitioner comes to realize that not-knowing is most intimate. 

Friday, 11 May 2018

217. ZEN REMARKS

217. Again and again in the koans we meet the formula 'I alone' set down as a manifestation of enlightened mind. And yet it sounds nonsensical. Trying to make sense of it philosophers might argue that it is a bald expression of solipsism. Psychologists might see it as evidence of either an inflated ego or a pathological disengagement from reality. Scholars might set it in the context of the Zen literary tradition and discuss it in terms of the doctrine of dependent co-arising. But the Zen practitioner is directed to simply sit with these words or, perhaps better, with the question that they evoke, while focusing on breath and body awareness. And so it is that in zazen the meditator lets go of all philosophical concepts and arguments, all the theorising of the psychologists, and all the discussions of the scholars in order to open a space for the True Self, the 'I ALONE', to manifest itself. 

Monday, 7 May 2018

216. ZEN REMARKS

216. The Japanese Rinzai master Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1768) claimed Shoju (1642-1721), disciple and only successor to Bunan (1603-1676), as his 'root master'. However there is no record that Shoju ever formally confirmed Hakuin's enlightenment-realization. So while there is no doubt that Hakuin was an authentic Zen teacher it would seem that in terms of Rinzai lineage charts it could be argued that he lacked legitimacy. But the sangha's recognition and acknowledgement of Hakuin would stand in for Shoju and confer legitimacy on his teaching role. As John McRae points out, 'what counts in the Chan transmission scheme are not the "facts" of what happened in the lives of Sakyamuni, Bodhidharma, Huineng, and others, but rather how these figures were perceived in terms of Chan mythology'. In the Zen tradition myth is more powerful and more important than so-called historical 'facts'.         

            

Sunday, 6 May 2018

215. ZEN REMARKS

215. Responding to a monk who had asked him about picking and choosing in the context of the Great Way, Master Joshu said, 'Above the heavens, below the heavens, I alone am the Honoured One'. Such a claim by a mere Zen master is surely outlandish and yet, in the Zen tradition, it is prized as the manifestation of Joshu's enlightened mind. So, what are we to make of it? Will we conclude that Zen is to be classified as solipsism? Or will we find that Joshu's statement serves to point us deep into the mystery of the True Self, the mysterious source of jiriki?    

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

214. ZEN REMARKS

214. Given the long hours that a Zen practitioner spends doing zazen, it is understandable that some might assume that Zen practice is, in the words of John McRae, 'an individual yogic endeavor of self-purification and progressive advancement toward Buddhahood'. But this is not the case. Zen practice is relational, involving interaction between individuals, between masters and disciples. It is not a matter of individual effort alone but calls for the creative space that opens up between master and disciple in dokusan. Only in the emptiness of this encounter can the individual practitioner come to realize and say with conviction and understanding, 'under the heavens and above the earth I ALONE'.

Monday, 30 April 2018

213. ZEN REMARKS

213. The word 'mind' makes a frequent appearance in the literature of Zen. And given the light that contemporary scholarship throws on discussions about Zen, we might reasonable expect that these discussions would also benefit from insights to be found in what in the West is called 'Philosophy of Mind'. But here we are faced with several 'buts'. First of all, as several scholars have pointed out, it is not only inadequate but also misleading to translate the Chinese character shin as 'mind'. Rather, we are told, it should be translated as 'heart-mind' for 'throughout all Buddhist literature, when one is talking about "mind," one is talking about the total package of the psycho-emotional network', and this is especially the case in Chinese understanding (see Mu Soeng's Trust in Mind). Perhaps we should go further and speak rather of the 'body-heart-mind'. And, secondly, this Zen understanding would jar with any Western philosophy of mind that thinks in terms of the Cartesian dualism between res cogitans and res extensa. Such a 'ghost in the machine' view of mind is a far cry from the Zen realization that 'mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars' (Dogen). 

212. ZEN REMARKS

212. What is jiriki, the self power on which the Zen practitioner relies? The self in question here cannot be the ego self which the practitioner must come to realize, sooner or later, is transitory, insubstantial, illusory. The self that empowers Zen practice is called by various names, such as the True Self, Buddha Nature, the Heart-Mind, No-Mind. Encountering the True Self plunges the practitioner deeply into a mysterious realm where one is carried beyond the polarities of jiriki and tariki. Here the seventh and final proposition of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus rings true: 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent'.

Friday, 27 April 2018

211. ZEN REMARKS

211. There is a saying that to the wise one word is enough. Zen would go even further. And so it treasures the story that tells of a non-Buddhist philosopher who approached the Buddha and said, 'I do not ask for words, I do not ask for non-words'. The Buddha just sat there. The philosopher was greatly impressed, thanked the Buddha for freeing him from his illusions, payed his respects, and left. But Ananda, the Buddha's personal assistant, was puzzled and asked the Buddha what it was that the philosopher had understood. Significantly, the Buddha did not tell him but only remarked that a fine horse runs even at the shadow of the whip. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

210. ZEN REMARKS

210. Zen practitioners in the West tend to be misled in their practice by a mistaken understanding of jiriki. Pursuing the practice in the spirit of rugged individualism is to miss the mark by a thousand miles. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

209. ZEN REMARKS

209. In koan after koan the question is asked, 'Where have you come from?' A clue to what our response might reveal can be found in the way we let certain words push our buttons. These words fail to provoke the Zen practitioner who, like Wittgenstein's philosopher, is not the citizen of any community of ideas. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

208. ZEN REMARKS

208. A problem with seeing Zen as a way of salvation is its insistence on saving oneself through one's own efforts. This reliance on self-power (jiriki) seems to be generally interpreted as ruling out any appeal to a higher power such as a deified Buddha, or Heidegger's 'a god', or the God of the Judeo-Christian revelation. But we need to think carefully about the nature of this 'self' that the Zen practitioner comes to rely on. And we might further ask how does such self-reliance square with the Zen practice of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha? Moreover, a practitioner's enlightenment-realization is not complete until it has been acknowledged and certified by a legitimate and authentic master and accepted by the sangha. Note the important role of knowing a master's lineage in the Zen tradition. Furthermore, the self that powers Zen practice cannot be the isolated, limited ego-self. Here we might call to mind Dogen's well-known saying: 'To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things'. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

207. ZEN REMARKS

207. Can Zen help us abandon greed, hatred and ignorance? Can it enable us to turn around delusive thoughts and passions? Can the practice of Zen uproot our deep seated cravings? Can Zen awaken us from our dream of separateness? If Zen would make good its claim to being a way of salvation, it must needs demonstrate that its practitioner, at least one who is said to be a realized enlightened practitioner, can walk free in the fullness of life. But the biographies of a number of so-called enlightened masters in the past century or so must here give us pause. Thinking about this I cannot help calling to mind something Heidegger said, something to the effect that 'only a god can save us'. And Zen, of course, is said to be a non-theistic religion. Could it be that Zen needs, not 'a god' but God? But acknowledging God, from the Zen point of view, is said to land us in dualism. Perhaps the problem here is not God but the concepts and images we have of God.     

Monday, 9 April 2018

206. ZEN REMARKS

206. Every day the Zen practitioner chants, 'Though the many beings are numberless, I vow to save them all'. This is surely a tall order, especially if the one taking on such a commitment does so from the point of view of the small, isolated, limited ego-self. 

Friday, 6 April 2018

205. ZEN REMARKS

205. Can you walk straight on a winding mountain path with its ninety-nine bends? If so, then you will know something of Zen's saving power. 

Monday, 2 April 2018

204. ZEN REMARKS

204. '... I vow to save them all.' Save from ... what? Save for ... what? Save by ... what? whom? Save ... how? 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Thursday, 29 March 2018

202. ZEN REMARKS

202. Is your zazen haunted by some ghost from the past? ('Though the many beings are numberless, I vow to save them all'). Are you taunted by ghosts of the present? ('Though delusive passions and thoughts rise endlessly, I vow to turn them around'). Are you frustrated at not being able to stop the ghost like chatter in your head? ('Thought after thought arises in the heart-mind, thought after thought not separate from heart-mind'). Remain open to all that presents itself, acknowledge and accept it while you stay grounded here and now in breath awareness, body awareness. Remember that 'Nirvana is right here before your eyes: this very place is the Lotus Land; this very body the Buddha!'

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

201. ZEN REMARKS

201. Zazen is an embodied practice. Ghosts, by definition, are disembodied. How then would you save a hungry ghost? Pay careful attention in your zazen practice and the effective saving act will issue forth of its own accord. 

Monday, 26 March 2018

200. ZEN REMARKS

200. 'Though the many beings are numberless, I vow to save them all.' Even ghosts? Yes, even ghosts, and especially hungry ghosts. 

Sunday, 25 March 2018

199. ZEN REMARKS

199. The koan challenges you to 'save a hungry ghost'. You protest 'I don't believe in ghosts'. So you don't believe in ghosts? Try zazen for half-an-hour. After that, if you can persist in your non belief, it's because you weren't paying attention. 

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Monday, 12 March 2018

197. ZEN REMARKS

197. One day Master Nansen pointed to a flower and said, 'People nowadays see this flower as in a dream'. We might ask, 'What is this dream?' And we might answer, 'It is the dream of separateness'. Zen would have us wake from this dream. And waking from the dream we come to vividly realise that the heavens, the earth, and ourselves are, as an ancient worthy put it, 'of the same root'. 

Friday, 9 March 2018

196. ZEN REMARKS

196.           home from India
                  on a single bed of pain -
                  my koan right here.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

195. ZEN REMARKS

195. While doing zazen or sitting meditation in the meditation hall, we are engaged in two basic practices: breath awareness and body awareness. Through these practices we gradually develop mindfulness, both while we are sitting on our cushions doing zazen and in our everyday activities. This mindfulness, and the concentration that is part and parcel of it, open up a space in our life for self-inquiry. Within this space we come to face questions about who and what we are. As Dogen, the great thirteenth century Japanese Zen master said, 'To study the Buddha Way is to study the self'. 

Sunday, 28 January 2018

194. ZEN REMARKS

194. The True Self is the source of the deep yearning that the Zen practitioner comes to find stirring within himself or herself, a  yearning not only for the liberation of the small, finite, separate self but also for the liberation of all beings. The distinction and interplay between the finite, conventional self and the True Self is graphically, even dramatically, displayed in many of the Zen koans. Questions like 'what is your original self?', 'who is he?', 'where is your true nature?', and 'who is this standing before me?' are all indicative of Zen's quest for the True Self, its search for what constitutes ultimate reality.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

193. ZEN REMARKS

193. Sangha, being a human institution, is never ideal. Being made up of people just like oneself, it has both strengths and weaknesses, good points and not so good. Utopian expectations of the sangha are bound to be disappointed. For some this can be a source of disillusionment, even of scandal. And yet, in spite of its shortcomings, many find in the sangha a welcoming and supportive community. Becoming acquainted with one's fellow members can be a source of great inspiration and an incentive to commit oneself more wholeheartedly to the practice. Moreover, the sangha opens one to the presence and teachings of an enlightened master.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

192 ZEN REMARKS

192. Thursday is usually designated as a 'free day ' at Bodhizendo in India. It provides wonderful opportunities to build up sangha relations. There is both time and leisure to get to know one's fellow practitioners, men and women who have been drawn here from many parts of the world. Many use the day to travel into town and mix with one another as they do so. Some shop together, explore the town, drink coffee. Some, however, stay at home, and soak up the peace and quiet of a mostly deserted zendo. Others choose to go walking in the hills with a friend or new acquaintance. And so they become intimate with the wider sangha, the ten thousand things and the men and women and children who make their home in the small villages here about.

Friday, 12 January 2018

191. ZEN REMARKS

191. The Zen practitioner is not an isolated individual. He or she belongs to a sangha, a community of fellow practitioners that is committed to the path under the guidance of a master. As sangha members practitioners are expected to contribute to the running of the community and to help build up sangha relations. An important way to do this is through the practice of samu. Samu is a form of work in the service of the sangha. In this practice members interact with one another. By cooperating on various projects they come to respect and value one another. Membership of the sangha is a great lesson in how to step from the top of the hundred foot pole.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

190. ZEN REMARKS

190. Dokusan is an opportunity to break out of an individualistic approach to Zen practice. There one goes alone into the presence of the master to make a presentation of one's understanding. The master may accept or reject one's presentation. No room for argument or egoism here. Indeed the master will jump on any indication of self importance on the part of the practitioner. And it is the master who decides when the interview is finished. This is the traditional model of Dokusan and it has its critics. Some complain that it is authoritarian and dismiss it as exhibiting something they call 'guru-ism'. Perhaps they find it an affront to their democratic sensibilities.

189. ZEN REMARKS

189. New comers to a Zen centre or monastery are sometimes surprised, even put off, by the rituals and chanting that they encounter there. It seems they imagine Zen to be a very private practice in which they turn inward to face their own consciousness. But Zen is not a private, individualistic undertaking. Rather, the Zen practitioner is part of a sangha, a community of fellow practitioners. Moreover, he or she undertakes the practice under the guidance of a Zen master. And it is to this master that a practitioner will at set times make a presentation of his or her understanding. A practitioner's realization is never complete without the master's endorsement.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

188. ZEN REMARKS

188. Touching, collecting  (re-collecting) the heart-mind, realizing and coming home to the heart-mind, this is our task in sesshin, our time of intensive practice. We are helped in doing this by our practices of concentration, of letting-be, of letting-go and being-with (in shikansaza), by the practice of mindfulness  (not only in zazen but also in all our activities), by self-inquiry  (especially as we face our life koan), and finally by our being directed towards the transformation of oneself and the world. By our own commitment to the practice of sesshin we can encourage one another in this transforming work.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

187. ZEN REMARKS

187. Starting the year: Let each moment be a new beginning. Let go of what is no more. Don't be anxious about what might happen next - it might not come to pass. Focus on the wonder of this present moment. Be open to what is being revealed here and now. Be filled with gratitude for the amazing reality of your being, for the extraordinary reality of all beings. Just being here now. Just breathing in. Just breathing out. Thus playing your part in the vast symphony of being. Marvel at the beauty of just this. Enter with a childlike trust into the beauty and wondrous mystery of just this. No need to be afraid.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

186. ZEN REMARKS

186. A Christian theologian has said that it is a basic law of the spiritual life that the more deeply a person is dispossessed the more deeply he or she must serve. In Zen we might express this in terms of entering into emptiness. And so we can say that the more deeply we enter into emptiness the more deeply we must serve. Of course the how and the where and the duration of our service is not for us to decide.