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...]

What Good is Zen?

What good is Zen? What can we expect from our practice? Is Zen about transformation?We do expect a lot, of course, and that's normal and healthy. When we tie ourselves up in knots of pseudo-no-gain, hiding our gaining ideas even from ourselves, we betray our simple humanity.Our gaining ideas are dreams, or course, and are equally the real deal. As are all the sights, sounds, smell, tastes and touches of this dream life.Yes, dream life. Sometimes even on a sunny day, it inexplicably … [Read more...]

The Life of a Dog: Dragging a Stick Horizontally Through a Vertical World

This morning I came across pictures of Bodhi trying to thread a stick horizontally through a world of vertical obstacles. Sound familiar? I remember taking the pictures about a month ago. The determined Bodhi struggled through about fifty yards of undergrowth in this manner. At first I laughed at him ... and then encouraged him to drop the stick - but he was steadfast. After "Drop!" didn't save him, I related with his predicament and just stayed with him. He finally dropped the stick when he … [Read more...]

On Taking Refuge in Evil Buddhas

In a recent fine talk,  Absolute Refuge, Jiryu Mark Rutschman Byler shares the practice of taking refuge in evil Buddhas. We had a lively conversation about this during our last Monday night Dogen study here. Turns out it's a theme that riles some folks up.Gentle Jiryu's riling talk, by the way, is one of the audio dharma talks that we'll use in the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training.Jiryu has studied an old Buddhist school in China, the Three Stages Sect, who seem to … [Read more...]

Arousing the Way Seeking Heart

What is the Way Seeking Heart?Sometimes it is referred to as the "thought of enlightenment" and in Sanskrit, bodhicitta (click here for the Wikipedia entry). In Guidelines for Studying the Way, Dogen takes up this issue, saying the various names for the Way Seeking Heart all refer to "...one and the same mind."The same and one mind. Hmmm.What mind is that?The first piece of reflection in the just-launched Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training is about this essential … [Read more...]

Expressing a Dream Within a Dream Audio

Sweeping Zen Audio now has a couple more talks, "Expressing a Dream in a Dream," from the sesshin at Deep Spring Temple in Pittsburgh last month. Click here.And below is the excerpt from Dogen's "Expressing a Dream in a Dream" (Tanahashi translation) that I was working with:The path of all buddhas and ancestors arises before the first forms emerge; it cannot be spoken of using conventional views. This being so, in the realm of buddha ancestors there is the active power of buddhas going … [Read more...]

Dogen: the Patron Saint of Passive Zen?

I was pleased this morning as I reviewed the comments to my recent posts about Soto Zen going to hell. Seems like as real a cyber conversation as we've had in these parts. Not everyone agrees, of course, and sometimes feelings flare.One way to frame the disagreement is as a debate between inherent stability and full aliveness. As is often the case these days, Dogen is brought up as a proponent of inherent buddha nature with a slight twist - there is no enlightenment apart from practice and … [Read more...]

Relax, Enter, Add Value: A Sometimes Not-So-Easy Summary of How to Practice Zen

A monk said, "I've just arrived here and I beg the master to point out a gate whereby I may enter."Xuansha said, "Do you hear the sound of the water in the creek?"The monk siad, "I hear it."Xuansha said, "Enter here."There's some superbly simple Zen directions, echoed by Ginny White in The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly: "Relax, enter, add value" is her first Zen flip.We've been working with that here in our practice period.Lot's of … [Read more...]