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 you on … [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 … [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, he saw that he needed a Plan B, so up he … [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 of … [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 dharma issues too, through … [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."The vision Jiryu presents is compelling: "...daring to stand for something in this time of so many somethings worth standing for."Jiryu acknowledges that for some practitioners, Zen is a private thing and then he asks what about "...Buddhist religion as communal, Buddhist meditation as communal, and Buddhist social engagement as c … [Read more...]

Flipping Over and Decoding Chinese Characters for Zen Translations

These two characters, read fānyì, say it well.The first means to "flip over," "upset," or  "capsize." The second is to "decode." Together, they're usually translated as "translate." In this post, I'll offer some thoughts about this business of flipping over and decoding Chinese characters for Zen translations and give an example of the implications of this work.In an email conversation with a well-known Buddhist scholar, the scholar mentioned that the person who has done the most to tra … [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 earlier incarnation of this blog with the 100% predictable result … [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 by laws, drafting the first budget, recreating the … [Read more...]