This past week, I received an email from a Sōtō Zen priest who trains under the guidance of good friends. “Does kenshō need to be realized by the discriminating mind?” he asked. I figured he was probably thinking of how practitioners ripen differently, some more prone to sudden experiences, while others seem more predisposed to the gradual process of steady cultivation. And perhaps he was thinking of Dōgen’s passage in “Genjōkōan,” “We should not think that what we have… Read more

          Studying Hakuin, the real guy keeps showing up – a practitioner of great ability! In this post, I turn back for a moment to kenshō, and then focus on the gritty business of post-kenshō cultivation (1). Along the way, we’ll touch on a theme or two seldom discussed in polite Zen conversation. Let’s begin with a passage I quoted a couple posts back, Hakuin’s Advice For How To Attain Kenshō: “When you run into [the One… Read more

This post continues the series on the teaching of Hakuin, the 18th Century Japanese Rinzai Zen priest in all his raw, unplugged and unglued dharma from the heart. Dave Hondo has an excellent to-the-point post, “Reading Hakuin in the Age of Trump,” here. And Kurt Spellmeyer had this about Hakuin in Tricycle a few years ago: The Zen Master is Present. By the way, I have no grand scheme for the order of posts in this series except “no rhyme or… Read more

The road passes among cresting mountains, Winding through thickets and vines; The border of the Wu state ends at the river edge, Soaring beyond, the serried peaks of Yueh. (painting, “Eaglehead Peak,” and poem by Hakuin) I find Hakuin’s teaching so powerful because of his uncluttered clarity, a direct expression of the heart of Mahayana Buddhism. I’d paraphrase it like this: in order to carry living beings across the flood, realize kenshō. Clarify kenshō until it’s limpid. Help others. That’s… Read more

Kuang-hui asked Nan-yuan, “What about before the wooden fish wumps?” “Looking at the sky, not seeing it,” replied Nan-yuan. “What about after the wooden fish wumps?” asked Kuang-hui. “Looking at the ground, not seeing it,” said Nan-yuan.” Great dharma presentation! “Before” and “after” and even “now” are non locatable. They exist only in words and ideas. What about it? Looking up and down, the wooden fish just goes “wump!” This kōan is indirectly referenced by Hakuin in Complete Poison Blossoms… Read more

In my last post, Who Is This Hakuin Guy?, I gave some background for Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴, 1686 – 1768) and the record of his teachings, the recently published Complete Poison Blossoms from a Thicket of Thorn: The Zen Records of Hakuin Ekaku, translated by Norman Waddell. Like most radical reformulators of the buddhadharma (e.g., Nagarjuna, Bodhidharma, Huineng, Dōgen, etc.), Hakuin saw himself as holding true to the essence of the Zen way, rearticulating that essence, and innovating a method for its… Read more

              Recently, I interviewed a prospective student for the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training. He’d spend about a decade doing center-based Zen study with a nonkoan teacher, and another decade on his own doing Sōtō home-based practice. In our conversation, I mentioned how I’m in both the lineage streams of Dōgen (through Katagiri Roshi,1928 – 1990) and Hakuin (through Dōkutan Sōsan Rōshi, 1840 – 1917, Dai-un Sōgagku Rōshi, 1871 – 1961, and James… Read more

              It’s been cold in Omaha these past days with another several cold ones forecast. In this weather (not climate!), we worry about a stray cat that we’ve named “Ananda” (tends to hang around the garden Buddha), who hasn’t been seen in many days, leading us to worry that he may not make it through the winter. But perhaps he’s just found a warm place to hole up. Meanwhile, the center is closed for… Read more

                “This mind is Buddha” is one of the most evocative teachings of our Zen school. It is a “teaching,” not a philosophical assertion or a faith statement, but rather a description of enlightening experience. Dōgen cites “This mind is Buddha” teaching in several fascicles in the Shobogenzo, eight dharma discourses in the Eiheikoroku, and also in his Shinji Shobogenzo (1). In this post, I will explore Dōgen’s working through of this kōan in relationship to enlightenment… Read more

              I just found this old photo of Tangen Harada Roshi, the last living successor to Daiun Harada Roshi, in the foreground, and my old friend, Jiku-san, in the background with the ring staff. I remember the morning it was taken during the winter of 1991. I was practicing as a Zen monk at Bukkokuji in Obama, Japan, and it was a day for takuhatsu (托鉢 “begging” or more literally, “holding up the alms… Read more

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