Did Dōgen Drop and What?

        “Some Sōtō Zen scholars and priests argue that Dōgen was against ‘personal’ enlightenment and that such an experience is out of tune with Dōgen’s teaching. Therefore, they conclude that later teachers must have made up the story of Dōgen’s personal enlightenment experience (you’ll find one version of this story at the bottom of this post).” I wrote that on April 1 (no joke), 2016. You can read the whole post here. In this post, I’d like to update… Read more

The Record of Going Easy: Who is Arising-Extinguishing?

Arising-extinguishing is the activity of this life-death. The kōan that I’ll be presenting today asks this question: “Who is arising-extinguishing?” First, a bit of background about the collection this kōan arises in – The Record of Going Easy, 從容錄, (Chinese: Cóngróng lù, Japanese: Shōyōroku), translated into English as The Book of Serenity and The Book of Equanimity. In my view, The Record of Going Easy expresses the characters fairly and better conveys what the text is about – going easy in the midst of… Read more

If You Get Silly Good at Zen, Will You Still Suffer?

Can Zen practice, even if you’re really good at it, lead us to freedom from suffering within the wild fluxes and flows of this life (aka, cause and effect or karma)? Remember that when the Buddha realized enlightenment, he thought that what he’d seen was too subtle for most. His post-enlightenment Plan A was to just sit under the bodhi tree and bliss out until his physical body’s karma was exhausted. But when he actually looked around at real people,… Read more

Illuminating with Grit and Ease: Gateless Barrier’s Mu Kōan

Wúmén Huikai (1183-1260, literally, “No-Gate Bright-Opening”), the compiler and author of the Gateless Barrier (無門關 Wúménguān), is one of the most important ancestors of our Zen tradition. Aitken Roshi notes: “An unconventional Zen master in many respects,Wúmén let his hair and beard grow and wore old soiled robes. He worked in the fields and carried his own slops. Called ‘Hui-k’ai the Lay Monk,’ he is a wonderful archetype for us monkish lay people in the West.” Wúmén was a contemporary… Read more

What Is Zazen? Dōgen’s Koan Realized

What is zazen? Everybody knows that Zen practice is largely about zazen, literally, “sitting zen” – but what is zazen? Through the ages, there has been a lot written about the subject, especially for a bunch that has spend so much time sitting down and shutting up. I got the bug for this inquiry (what is zazen?) from Katagiri Roshi. It involves investigating the ancient sayings, drilling in, and seeing how the ancients regarded this practice of sitting, and other… Read more

Communal or Private: Is Zen for Everybody or Just a Few?

Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler at No Zen in the West recently raised the issue of “Private Religion, Private Engagement; Communal Religion, Communal Engagement.” Read more

Flipping Over and Decoding Chinese Characters for Zen Translations

As is well known, the Chinese written language, and especially the ancient Ch’an texts, use words differently than does the English language. Read more

The Mu Koan and How Some Zennists Just Wanna Have Fun

I’m going to roll back into the “mu koan” here. One thing I’m not going to do is try to convince any nonkoan Soto practitioners that koan training is in line with Soto Zen or that contemporary Soto Zen and Dogen’s Zen are only indirectly related. I renounce these topics! They are among my favorite topics, to be sure, but let’s look at the data. It seems that I wrote about a thousand posts about these two themes in the… Read more

The End of Zen Exceptionalism: Some Thoughts on Zen Center Transitions

Dear Reader, It’s been about six months since I last posted something here. About a year ago, Tetsugan and I moved from Portland, ME, to Omaha, NE, to lead the Nebraska Zen Center (NZC) and it’s been a very full year! You see, the NZC Board hired us to come in and do a Zen center make-over and that is just what we’ve done, not only cleaning, painting, and reorganizing the inside space, but also revamping the organization (re-doing the… Read more

The True Bridge? Studying and Teaching Zen

                A monk asked Zhaozhou, “For a long time I’ve heard about Zhaozhou’s stone bridge. Coming here, I only see a simple log bridge.” Zhou said, “You only see the simple log bridge, but don’t see the stone bridge.” The monk said, ”What is the stone bridge like?” Zhao said, “Carries donkeys, carries horses.” Zhaozhou is both a province in ancient China with a famous bridge and an important Zen teacher who not… Read more

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