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...]

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...]

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...]

What is the Withered Tree Way?

This reflection is a follow up to James Ford's post a little while back, Jiufeng Does Not Approve: A Brief Meditation.I've been chewing on this old case for twenty years or so - an important pointer in my ongoing search for what Dogen calls the wondrous method of practice-enlightenment (aka, shikantaza).Katagiri Roshi would often say that there are only a few people who really know this wondrous method. I took that to heart and launched a pilgrimage that has been dragging on for … [Read more...]

The Red Flesh Ball of a Decayed Tree

As I may have mentioned, in our Monday Night Dogen Study we've been working through the Thirty-Seven Factors of Enlightenment (click here for the list).Here's Dogen's explanation of mindfulness - something that appears five times on the list."The root of mindfulness is the red flesh ball of a decayed tree."This fascicle of the Shobogenzo is one of the most difficult in the whole collection and Dogen's comments on the Five Faculties and Five Powers, the source of the above line, are … [Read more...]

Dogen Zen and Vinegar

A couple days ago at work I was cleaning the coffee maker in my office by running vinegar through it. After the first person came in and said, "Wow, that smell brings me back. I'm in my grandmother's kitchen in Louisiana in 1960 and she's cooking greens," I began to ask each passing guest what they were reminded of by the smell.One person said, "I'm thinking of my dad on a hot summer day while we were growing up. He always used vinegar to treat sunburn."Another said, "Smells like taking … [Read more...]

A Story about Koans and Stories on the Solstice

Sunset on planet Earth at Latitude:N 45° 6' 17.1126" Longitude:W 93° 1' 40.0865" (White Bear, MN) at 4:35 on the Solstice, with the sun setting at 237 degrees SW (the last according to the compass app on my iPhone so subject to user error).This is the longest night of the year and a night we humans - at least our relatives who moved significantly north and south from the equator - have probably told some long stories on this night and got a long delicious sleep too.Stories have been on my … [Read more...]