The Spiral of Awakening. An old friend tells about when he lived in a Zen monastery for a time they were visited regularly by a Catholic monk who was a well known spiritual director and confessor to a convent. My friend was the attendant to the Zen abbot during a visit where over tea the monk said, “It is so good to come to a monastery where so much training is going on.” The… Read more

I’ve been thinking about the various comments about Zen meditation I’ve seen around the inter webs. Some of those comments are quite helpful. Some are beautiful and provide authentic direction for people on the way, including me. Others not so much so. Too many, I fear, seem to simply offer mediocre paraphrases of the texts of preferred ancestors without much nuance. And some are simply offering salve for egos branded as “Zen,” but having no connection to our practice and… Read more

      Today the 5th of June is the official publication date of my book Introduction to Zen Koans: Learning the Language of Dragons. From the Prologue: There is a story about a man in ancient China who loved dragons. Unlike dragons in Western culture, who guard hoards of treasure and menace maidens and villages, dragons in China, while dangerous, are also carriers of great wisdom. In the Zen way, they’re often used as a symbol for our deepest… Read more

      As I write this I am sitting at SeaTec in Seattle waiting on the first leg of my flight back to Long Beach. I’ve just completed a four-day commuter Zen meditation retreat here in Seattle. The group was drawn primarily from the two Bright Cloud sanghas. They meet at two Unitarian Universalist churches in the area and the group was almost entirely composed of UUs. So, not a conventional Zen sesshin. We began and ended with partial… Read more

    As we continue on our Zen retreat up in Seattle, I offer another reflection. While it is actually sunny here, I cannot visit the Pacific Northwest without thinking, at least in passing, about rain. With that here are a few thoughts on a koan I wrote last year.   One of my favorite koans was anthologized in the Biyan Lu, in Japanese the Hekiganroku, in English, the Blue Cliff Record. Case 46 in the collection of one hundred koans,… Read more

    This weekend I am deep into a Zen meditation retreat in Seattle and unable to make my regular contributions. So, here’s a dharma talk from a couple of years ago. Seems timely…   Yunmen’s Dried Shit Stick James Ishmael Ford A student of the way asked Yunmen, “What is Buddha?” Yunmen replied, “Dried shitstick.” Case 21, Gateless Gate Yunmen is one of the great teachers of the Zen way. He lived between the middle of the ninth century… Read more

      This past Sunday I have the privilege of being invited to preach at the Unitarian Universalist Community of Cambria. I hesitate to say how they received it, but, me, I had a great time. A wonderful community. If you ever find yourself on California’s central coast on a Sunday, I recommend a visit. One thing that struck me was a picture on the wall behind the pulpit. It was a variation on a common image within UU communities…. Read more

      Inspired by a conversation about the Japanese Buddhist and American Unitarian encounter, I dug around to find this paper which I first delivered back in 2014. It’s about some details of that meeting between Buddhism, really mostly the meeting of Zen Buddhism and Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists. I consider it an important subject.  A MEETING OF THE WATERS A Preliminary Report from the Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist Encounter A Paper Delivered at the Fraters of the Wayside… Read more

Rick McDaniel, the author of several narrative histories of aspects of the Zen tradition in China and Japan and the Americas, recently asked me a question. “What is there about Zen that makes it worth preserving?” I found a lot packed into those ten words. There is the entire history of Zen hidden in that question. And while it can be about Zen writ large, I think he meant Zen in the West. So, there are all the specifics of… Read more

    Bram Stoker’s gothic novel Dracula was published on this day in 1897. It was a significant cultural marker. Now, vampires had long been part of the cultural matrix. There were even other vampire novels in the nineteenth century before Stoker. But, it is Stoker’s Dracula who brought it into the culture’s livingroom, or possibly more accurately into the culture’s bedroom. An unsigned Wikipedia article on vampires notes how Stoker’s “vampirism as a disease of contagious demonic possession, with… Read more

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