Zen and the Boundless Way: Reflecting on the Blue Cliff Record, Case 61

Fengxue said, “If you raise a speck of dust, the nation flourishes. If you don’t raise a speck of dust, the nation perishes.”(Xuedou held up his staff and asked: “Do any of you, at the bottom, live and die like this?”)Blue Cliff Record, Case 61Fengxue Yanshao was born at the end of the ninth century, and became one of the great Zen masters of his era. Stories of his teaching or of encounters with him are the stuff of quite a few classical koan. And his two sentences in this three sent … [Read more...]

Awakening and Zen: A Reflection on the Range of Awakening Experiences

On facebook in the comments to my recent posting on awakening and Zen there was a bit of a thread which included some pretty heavy weight Zen teachers. Jiryu Rutschman-Byler raised the term "kensho-spectrum" to summarize some of what he saw suggested in my writing. He then invited me to speak more fully on the subject.The point as I read it was that often we're given the sense that awakening as it is described in Zen is this one big thing that changes everything. But, as Jiryu noted, I … [Read more...]

Where Is Paradise? Commenting on a Zen Koan

In that wonderful anthology of Zen's koans, the Wumenquan, the Gateless Gate, the fifth case "Xiangyan: Up a Tree" goes like this:The priest Xiangyan said, "It is as if you were up in a tree. You're hanging from a branch by your teeth. Your hands can't grasp anything. Your feet are flailing about. Suddenly someone from below asks, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?" If you don't answer, you fail your responsibility. If you do, you die. What will you do?So, a … [Read more...]

On the Nothingness of God: A Zen Meditation

Back in 2008 I read a review of the book Merton & Buddhism: Wisdom, Emptiness & Everyday Mind edited by Bonnie Bowman Thurston. The reviewer cited a particular line that I’ve not been able to shake. “(W)hen the Dalai Lama was asked if he believed in God, he replied ‘It depends on what you mean by ‘God’: if you mean by ‘God’ What Thomas Merton means, then yes, I do.'”This very much caught my imagination. And, I wrote on the subject, on the yes, and the implied no, and within that the p … [Read more...]

The Zen of Holy Saturday: A Buddhist Reflection on a Hard Christian Holy Day

A couple of years ago I wrote a meditation on the Christian day before Easter, Holy Saturday. It continues to haunt me, and as the calendar has rolled around to another one, I thought I'd give it another go.Holy Saturday. Jesus is dead. With that in the Christian story, God is dead. Resurrection has not yet happened. Actually there's no good reason to even think of something like a resurrection. If you've lived any time at all you really know that when someone dies, they stay dead.Yes, … [Read more...]

Following the Scented Flowers: A Small Meditation on a Zen Koan

One day Changsha went off to wander in the mountains. When he returned, the temple director met him at the gate and asked, “So, where have you been?”Changsha replied, “I’ve been strolling about in the hills.”“Which way did you go?”“I went out following the scented grasses and came back chasing the falling flowers.”The director smiled. “That’s exactly the feeling of spring.”Changsha, agreed, adding, “It’s better than autumn dew falling on lotuses.”Blue Cliff Record, Case 36 … [Read more...]

Zen Teacher Desmond Gilna received Denkai Transmission

As the hour approached midnight on the evening of the 11th of March, 2017, in a private ceremony, I gave Denkai transmission to Desmond Gilna, Keido Gando, Osho.(Here I originally said that with this Desmond became the first Irish koan Zen teacher. But, of course that isn't true. Maura O'Halloran was the first. And, today, there's also Barbara Joshin O'Hara, Sensei, heir to Josho Pat O'Hara Roshi. Thanks to all for the corrections.)In the Japanese inheritance Denkai, or precepts … [Read more...]

A Love Letter from the Deep: a Zen Reflection on Case 15 of the Gateless Gate

I opened my email today to find the poem of the day from Panhala was by the Medieval Japanese Zen monk and poet Ikkyu. In Sonya Arutzen's translation.Every day, priests minutely examine the Law And endlessly chant complicated sutras. Before doing that, though, they should learn How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and moon.Sojun Ikkyu is one of my favorite Zen teachers. He was born sometime in 1394 in a suburb of Kyoto to lower ranking noblewoman and, some … [Read more...]

Zen teacher Dosho Port on the Three Ways of Zen Meditation

There's a lot of confusion about Zen meditation, breath counting, just sitting, and koan introspection.Zen teacher Dosho Port's talk, the Three Ways of Zen Meditation lays it out as well as I've seen.Out of my years of practice and study, I feel much of what is presented about Zen meditation is not very helpful. This talk, however, is about as clear an exposition of what I understand to be the discipline, presented clearly, and compassionately. The talk itself is about twenty-five … [Read more...]

The World is a Burning Hut: A Zen Meditation

There was an old woman who supported a hermit. For twenty years she always had a girl, sixteen or seventeen years old, take the hermit his food and wait on him. One day she told the girl to give the monk a close hug and ask, “What do you feel just now?”The hermit responded,An old tree on a cold cliff; Midwinter – no warmth.The girl went back and told this to the old woman. The woman said, “For twenty years I’ve supported this vulgar good-for-nothing!” So saying, she threw the monk o … [Read more...]