Just Sit or Wake Up? A Tale of Two Old Teachers

The tension over what to emphasize in dharma practice, just sitting or waking up (aka, meditation or wisdom), goes way back, probably to the time of the historical Buddha. And because we are in an emergency situation – born and soon to die – discovering the most skillful approach for resolving the great matter of birth and death - and throwing ourselves into it - is an urgent matter.If we make the wrong choice, well, lost time won’t be found again.In China, an atypical tension between tho … [Read more...]

Dogen and Koan: The Ultimate Truly Definitive Unquestionable Smoking Gun

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...]

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...]

Cold as Hell!

Cold as hell!And just to be clear, for Buddhists using "cold" to describe "hell" is not a contradiction. We Buddhists, you see, have cold hells too. Lots of 'em.So we've got that going for us too.As I was saying, though, now it's -15 wind chill in White Bear, MN, and getting colder. -45 or so by morning so the schools will probably be closed.It is so cold that if you walk into the wind for about 3 seconds, your eyebrows will hurt like hell. That's how cold it is.By the way, … [Read more...]

The Old Plum Tree Bursts into Bloom

This is the third installment in the "Plum Blossom" series. Katagiri Roshi gave these talks twenty-five years ago and recently David Casucuberta transcribed them and I've edited them. Click here for the link for the second one, "Gassho Like Falling Snow," and that will bring you to the first one too. Take it away old Roshi: The old plum tree is the boundless actualization of truth with no end and no beginning, the actualization of the whole universe - pine trees, bird, your hair, boots, nose, … [Read more...]

Do Not Waste Your Time Admiring a Painted Rice Cake: Kukai and Dogen on the Art of Enlightenment

Pamela D.  Winfield has undertaken a wonderfully detailed and intelligent study, Icons and Iconoclasm in Japanese Buddhism: Kukai and Dogen on the Art of Enlightenment, suitable for hopeless Dogen geeks (or Kukai geeks if there be such people) like myself and Buddhist scholars, of course, but maybe not the masses.This morning, Amazon has the book at #680,626 - so, okay, for sure not the masses.However, there is much here that informs the practice of Zen. And some that doesn't. In this p … [Read more...]

Shikantaza: Busy, Busy Karmic Consciousness – When Will it Rest?

My friend and teacher, James Ford, has a recent Monkey Mind post (click here), "Assuming the Position: Zazen as a remembrance of things past and Zazen as awakening," and has awakened me from a summer-time blog slumber.James begins by reflecting on the purpose of the dharma talk and whether it is "to encourage practice" or "direct pointing to the matter at hand."The venerable then goes on to address what has become a common perspective on practice in the Soto school, at least in the US … [Read more...]

Zazen: Just Turn the Light Around

The essential instruction for zazen practice in the Zen tradition from Shitou's (700-790) "Song of the Grass Hut Hermitage" to Dogen's (1200-1253) "Universal Recommendations for Zazen" to today is just this simple phrase:"Just turn the light around to illuminate."Reading Charles Egan's Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown: Poems by Zen Monks of China, I stumbled upon a striking little tidbit of context for this phrase.Egan translates the phrase as "shine the reflections back" and notes … [Read more...]

Tossing Out the True Teacher and Bringing in the Barely Good Enough

In the Vine of Obstacles: Support for Online Zen Training, the first focus for study practice is Dogen's "Guidelines for Practicing the Way." Dogen makes ten points here, starting with the importance of clear intention, practicing for the sake of buddhadharma, and the importance of studying with a "true" teacher.Click here for a Wild Fox blog post about following a teacher, practicing yourself, following yourself from a couple years ago.In the Vine work, several people have gotten "true" … [Read more...]