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...]

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 onl … [Read more...]

Dharma and Relationships in Bhutan: A Brief and Very Partial Trip Review

One night earlier this month at Lhodrak Karchu Monastery in Jakar, in the Bumthang district of Bhutan (the photo on the left is of monks there practicing debate), I set out for dinner at the cafeteria where the 80 or so mostly Western conference participants received meals. The cafeteria was four blocks from my dorm, down a winding road where I knew I was likely to pass a dozen or so friendly (or, at least, neutral) stray dogs who roamed the country, including the grounds of the monastery and … [Read more...]

Nebraska, Bhutan, and the Hereandnow

Greetings to those of you who follow the Wild Fox Zen Blog. Or used to - it's been quite a while since I posted.Here's a quick update.At the end of June, 2016, we left Portland, ME, and moved to Omaha, NE, to assume leadership of the Nebraska Zen Center. The transition was really tough, especially for the first six-weeks or so after landing. It was even questionable for a while if we'd stay.But we did.And now we've taken some big steps toword reinvigorating the practice here. … [Read more...]