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 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...]

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...]

Tracking Bodhidharma

Back in the 1980's, the scholarly perspective that Bodhidharma was a myth began making the rounds in practice places. Seems like the earliest reports of the old dog that the scholars could find were a couple hundred years after his purported death. I was surprised because ... well, I suppose I was surprised mostly because I was young and naive and believed stuff, especially Zen stuff, without much skepticism.I brought the Bodhidharma matter up with Katagiri Roshi who first hunched a bit, … [Read more...]

Is Truth Inside or Outside?

Good stuff in the blog world this morning, sorta on a theme - is the buddha way transcendent or immanent?More simply put, is the truth "out there" or "in here"?Take a look, for example at the ruminations of James Ford over at Monkey Mind and the bowing of Koun Franz over at Nyoho Zen.Both seem to be dealing with this central and subtle issue.In my view, the transcendent view tends to deprecate the utter beauty of the moment at hand. The immanent view tends to deny the possibility … [Read more...]