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

                In this look at Brad Warner’s new book, It Came From Beyond Zen: More Practical Advice from Dōgen, Japan’s Greatest Zen Master, I’m going to focus just on one issue – kōan. But for decorum sake, let’s start with this: Brad Warner has done a lot of good for Zen in the West. Most practitioners I talk with who are under 40-years-old found their way to Zen through Warner’s books, especially Hardcore Zen. Warner has cultivated an image… Read more

          I’ve been working on a review of Brad Warner’s new book, It Came From Beyond Zen: More Practical Advice from Dōgen, Japan’s Greatest Zen Master, to be posted soon. Given that I have a different perspective than Warner and nonkōan Zen folks generally on what Dōgen practiced and taught, and given the curious sensitivity of the kōan issue, I thought I might do some preemptive blogging. After I write about my views on Dōgen and kōan, you see, although there are… Read more

                Above is Zenshin Tim Buckley, a friend and fellow traveller on this Zen way, who died on April 16, 2015. You can read more about Zenshin here.  We’re not here today, though, to memorialize Zenshin but to ask, “Who is it that dies?” You can read the run up to this post, “Birth Death and Intimate Self Knowledge,” here and listen to a talk about it here. In this post, I’ll unpack a kōan from… Read more

            At the end of the day in most Zen practice centers, a student rises from zazen, goes to the han (wooden sounding board pictured above, given to the Nebraska Zen Center in 1977 by Harada Roshi), and before a series of roll downs, recites this verse (or some other version): I beg to urge you everyone, Life and death is the great matter. All things pass quickly away. Awaken, awaken, take heed. Make use… Read more

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