Guidelines for Studying the Way: Online Course Begins September 15th

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Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training is a new way of integrating zazen, dharma study and engaging the world through our practice.For the first time, we are offering our introductory course (appropriate for students with a wide-range of dharma experience), Guidelines for Studying the Way, as an 11-week session, September 15-November 24, and invite you to join the cohort that will work through the course together.The Vine began just a year-and-a-half ago and I'm delighted wi … [Read more...]

Thirty Years a Zen Priest

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Thirty years ago today, Nonin (front), Dokai (middle), and I went under with shukke tokudo with Katagiri Roshi. One of the most important days of my life, to be sure.I've written a few pieces about all this Zen priest business over the years. "What the Heck is a Zen Priest?" and "Hanging Out with Homeleavers," for example.August 18, 1984, was a beautiful summer day in Minneapolis. An internet search says the high was 82. The next day, I believe, we all went to the monastery for a couple … [Read more...]

How To Lose Friends & Alienate People: My On-going Failing Efforts to Express the Truth of the Shikantaza Koan


Myo Lahey, a San Francisco Zen trained Soto priest, has entered the shikantaza-koan fray with admirable spirit, offering a thoughtful restatement of the Soto orthodoxy (San Francisco Zen flavored neopolitan, I think) in response to my last blog post (Dogen and Koan: The Ultimate Truly Definitive Unquestionable Smoking Gun) with his "Plain or Sugar Koan."Myo's critique runs along these lines (not necessarily in this order): First, Myo asserts that although Dogen had koan training and fluency, … [Read more...]

Dogen and Koan: The Ultimate Truly Definitive Unquestionable Smoking Gun

Yamada Mumon Mu

There is a long-standing debate in Soto Zen circles about Dogen and the use of koans.Dogen, you see, is regarded these days as the founder of the just-sitting school of Zen (Soto) and his writings are used (selectively - I'd argue) to paint the great founder advocating for the style of zazen he taught, shikantaza, and the style that characterizes the modern Rinzai school, koan introspection, as different and not equal. This narrative became dominant about two hundred years ago - 550 years a … [Read more...]

Great Tides Zen Fall Program Offerings (and Beyond)


We've been enjoying the summer here in Portland, ME. One of the big highlights has been the times we've spent meeting and getting to know members of the local dharma community. The Maine Buddhist community is rich and wonderfully diverse.And we're eager to get the Great Tides Zen fall practice program underway - daily zazen, introductory sessions, practice period, zazenkai, and sesshin.Our first event will be Wake the Heck Up! Morning Zazen at Still Water Yoga from 5:30am - 7:00am on … [Read more...]

Green Tea, Udon Noodles and Zen Study

zen study

In my last post I addressed the issue of why we've chosen to place "Guidelines for Studying the Way" at the front of our study work here in Portland, ME, and on the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training.In this post, I'll take up the issue of why we emphasize study at all. After all, didn't Bodhidharma say that Zen isA special transmission outside the scriptures No dependence upon words and letters; Direct pointing to the human heart Seeing one's nature and attaining … [Read more...]

Guidelines for Studying the Way – Why?


 "...The code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules." - Barbossa comment on the "Pirates Code" in Pirates of the Caribbean This fall Great Tides Zen will offer the first practice period here in Portland, ME, and for our study focus we'll dig into Dogen's "Guidelines for Studying the Way" (Gakudo Yojinshu). This follows the curriculum I've been developing for the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training, where the "Guidelines" is the first course I walk through with s … [Read more...]

We Are Alone, Snow All Over: Commentary on Dogen’s “Plum Blossoms” (Part 6)

Photo by Mark Ostrander

What follows is the last installment of the "Plum Blossom" series based on talks that Dainin Katagiri Roshi gave during Rohatsu sesshin in 1988. This was Roshi's last Rohatsu Sesshin and one of the last talks he gave before he began his engagement with cancer that ended with his death on March 1, 1990.The recordings for these talks were transcribed by David Casacuberta (deep thanks!) and edited by me. You can find the other installments in the series here:1. A Gentle, Caring Way of Life: … [Read more...]

What is Earnest Vivid Sitting, How it’s Often Missed in American Zen, and Why it Matters


  Big life event - retired in early June from a thirty-some year education career (except for a few stints of full time Zen, I'd been at it since I was 22) and headed here to Portland, ME, to start a Zen training center, Great Tides Zen (oh, and please sign up for our newsletter updates in the bottom right sidebar). Our apartment wasn't going to be available until July 1, so we drove from Minnesota to Maine at a leisurely pace. I took the opportunity to listen to a half dozen or so dharma … [Read more...]