New Year’s Dedication: Like a Beast Plunging Toward The Thing It Loves

I imagine that like you, dear reader, today I’m reflecting on 2012 and wondering about 2013.

For me 2012 was a year of several important shifts. One child graduated from high school. Another bloomed into a young man, driver’s test looming. I completed my last professional license this lifetime and am already looking forward to a career change.

I’m passionate about my work in education, you see, and there’s another adventure that I’m eager to go on that is slowly taking shape. I’m hoping Bill Clinton is right about 60 being the new 40!

What is that adventure? Here’s a passage from today’s Writers Almanac:

It’s the birthday of painter Henri Matisse (1869), born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. As a child and a young man, he had no interest in art. He went to law school in Paris and never visited a single museum while he was there. Had it not been for a case of appendicitis, he might never have become an artist. Bedridden for several weeks during his recovery, he took up painting at the suggestion of a neighbor, as a way to pass the time. It was a revelation. He later said: “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”

For me, it was a copy of Three Pillars of Zen that a friend sent me during the summer of 1977. Holding it in my hands, I knew I’d found my life’s work.

Many years later I had the chance to tell the ailing Phillip Kapleau Roshi, wrapped in a blanket and propped up in a wheel chair, “Your book changed my life.”

Kapleau Roshi looked up at me and with an impish grin said, “For the better, I hope.”

Today I consider myself blessed to have discovered Zen at 21 and so have had these years to play. Now I’m getting ready to be more available to offer Zen training to others.

What about you? What are you devoted to? What are you willing to put your life on the line for?

There’s an interesting word in general Buddhism for this – “dharani.” The Sanskrit means “to hold or maintain.”

Cleary notes, “A dharani is a mystical incantation in which teachings are concentrated; in Zen literature this term is sometimes used loosely to refer to spiritual realization.”

And according to Wikipedia, “Kūkai … argued that every syllable of a dharani was a manifestation of the true nature of reality – in Buddhist terms, that all sound is a manifestation of shunyata or emptiness of self-nature. Thus, rather than being devoid of meaning, Kūkai suggests that dharanis are in fact saturated with meaning – every syllable is symbolic on multiple levels.”

So “dharani,” what we hold and maintain, is itself a manifestation of true-nature and “symbolic on multiple levels.”

Or as the French philosopher Latour puts it, “I am what I’m attached to.”

Whatever it is, here’s a traditional Soto Zen prayer for the New Year.

Dharani is wondrous medicine which cures the confusions and illnesses of all living beings.

Like heavenly ambrosia, it brings repose and bliss to the receiver.

May all awakened ones extend their luminous mirror wisdom through the three treasures.

On this auspicious occasion of the New Year 2013, we heartily chant the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra and the Daihishin Dharani and dedicate their virtue and energy to all Bodhisattva Mahasattvas, all guardians protecting the Dharma, and this practice place.

May Bodhisattva Mahasattvas purify inside and outside and promote our training in the Buddha Way in peace and harmony together.

Zenshin Tim Buckley Dies: One Heartbeat, Ten Thousand Buddhas
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BTW, We Have to Remove Your Feet: Being Mortal, Waking Up, and Dying Together
Practicing Through Snow and Cold (or Whatever Afflictions May Visit)
  • Dan Garner

    This year my word is “awaken”. I hope to seek nothing, other than what is.


    • doshoport

      Thank you, Dan.

  • vibrant moss

    Is there any human more beastly than a mother-in-law? Haha, that’s me! Hideous, elderly, crabbing along stiffly with outstretched hand …

    The thing I love is my child. But I shall let the child go, and extend my love and listening skills to the chosen one. The daughter-in-law. The son-in-law. These are my things for 2013. The things I will love. and lurch toward. Beware, chosen ones!

  • doshoport

    Thank you, Vibrant Moss. What a name! Where’d that come from :-)

  • Jeanne Desy

    I just read that story about Matisse two or three nights ago to Tom. What to make of that?

    • doshoport

      Find what you love and live up to it – that’s what I make of it. How about you?

  • Stephen Slottow

    You’re coyly hinting, giggling girlishly and charmingly. Be blunt and plain, like the honest man of the soil that you are. What is this new career? Working in leather? Manufacturing pins? Replacing the Pope? Creating wax replicas of Zen teachers? Opening a gun shop? Making scented candles? Out with it.

  • phil martin

    What a wonderful image of that beast plunging! I may be assigning this quote to the wrong painter, but I think it was also Matisse who, when asked what it was that he had first loved about painting said, “I loved the smell of the paints!” I’ll take that as my dharani in the coming year: rather than follow some grand idea of what I want to do or be, I’ll let the nuts and bolts, nitty gritty, smell and taste and touch and sound be what guides me to the thing I love.

    Thank you for sharing your dharani. May the year be filled with plunging…

    • doshoport

      Sure smells like Matisse.
      May we share some more of the nitty gritty!

  • Koun Franz


    I, too, started with Three Pillars of Zen, at about 18. You and I were lucky, I think, to stumble upon that book as early as we did, at an age when reading a book can change your whole life direction. How great that you were able to tell Philip Kapleau directly.

    This post hints at exciting things. More available? There could be no better news than that. My best to you in 2013.


  • http://JustThis( Alan

    Kind of like Thoreau:

    “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

    Enjoy the bone and the marrow my friend.

    Happy New Year..we will talk later…


  • doshoport

    Thanks Stephan, Koun, and Alan for your interest in “Now I’m getting ready to be more available to offer Zen training to others.” No specifics yet. Exploring some options. One thing is clear – I’m interested in starting a Zen training center, not a Zen church or temple, not a one-stop shop. It’s great that there are those places, imv, just not what I’m called to do.
    Palms together,

  • Oreb

    Made me think of this:

    “To live in the deer as she runs toward the hunter’s call,
    In the partridge that swallows hot coals for love of the moon,
    In the fish that, kept from the sea, happily dies.”

    (Mirabai, from Stephen Mitchell’s anthology)

    Thank you for the generosity of this great blog.

  • Mike Haitch


  • Harry

    Hi Dosho,

    A belated Happy New Year to you and yours. This all sounds great!

    I felt this way (life’s calling etc) about music at one time… but I sort of f**ked it up by getting involved in ‘a scene’. What was that line of Cohen’s from ‘Democracy’? “…I love the country, but I can’t stand the scene”. I still do it, but I have to practice music as a sort of conscious discipline, and my head is no longer on fire for it. Sad, in a way, but that’s just how it is at the moment. On the other hand I was sort of obsessed with it.

    Anyway, I envy someone who has so definitively found their ‘calling’, but I’m mostly happy for you. Just don’t go on about it too much; it upsets us vagrant foxes with nothing better to do than mind your business! :-)