September 23, 2020

During our nonresidential practice periods at the Minnesota Zen Center in the 1980’s, students took turns giving talks at 4:30 a.m. Katagiri Roshi usually sat very quietly with his inverted half-moon mouth, a world-class frown, and very seldom made any comment about our wobbly efforts to express the dharma. One morning Roy, a longtime student of Katagiri Roshi, began his talk verbally stumbling around. “While I was walking to the zendo I began crossing the street just as a piece… Read more

September 16, 2020

In April, in the early pandemic days, I began posting a series here on the nine motifs offered to summarize the teaching of Zen Master Dàhuì Zōnggǎo, thanks to the recent translation of The Letters of Chan Master Dàhuì Pǔjué, by Jeffrey L. Broughton and Elise Yoko Watanabe, starting here: The Most Revered and Most Reviled Zen Master Ever Now that we’ve worked through the Letters on The Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training, and had a powerful summer practice session,… Read more

August 19, 2020

This summer in the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training we’ve been focussed on the teaching of Zen Master Dàhuì Zōnggǎo (1089–1163; 大慧宗杲), thanks to the recent translation of The Letters of Chan Master Dàhuì Pǔjué, by Jeffrey L. Broughton and Elise Yoko Watanabe. Dàhuì  is probably best-known today among Zen students for his instructions on what NOT to do in keyword practice (e.g., “mu”). In The Letters there are three overlapping lists of what not to do in (letters #10.5, #14.8, and… Read more

July 14, 2020

Practice at Bukkokuji was like living at grandpa’s house. Harada Tangen Rōshi set the rules and everyone followed them – or left. If you didn’t think that Grandpa Rōshi-sama was setting rules that were all about your awakening, then you were in the wrong place, and also would be told to take the next train to Kyōto. This clarity made life incredibly simple. Lately, as Tetsugan Ōshō and I talk with each other about our teaching practice, the Vine of Obstacles,… Read more

July 13, 2020

In 2009, I had the pleasure of teaching at what is now the Zen Life & Meditation Center in Chicago. After the teaching event, the teachers, Robert Joshin Althouse and June Ryushin Tanoue, graciously invited several other local Zen teachers over for dinner. The group included a couple of mysterious figures from Daiyuzenji Rinzai Zen Temple, So’zan Miller and Meidō Moore. I say “mysterious,” because neither I nor the Zen folks I hung out with had anything more than scant… Read more

June 23, 2020

One aspect of Dàhuì’s teachings, probably best-known today among keyword students, are his instructions on what NOT to do, especially in regard to working with the keyword mu. There are actually three overlapping lists of what not to do in The Letters (letters #10.5, #14.8, and #58.2). (1) In this post, I will translate the list from #14.8. You can find my translation of the list in #10.5, as well as more context, here. Broughton and Watanabe’s translation is below. You’ll notice quite a… Read more

June 6, 2020

Introduction This series is especially directed to students working with a keyword (話頭 huàtóu, Japanese, watō) with Tetsugan Osho and I on the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training or at the Nebraska Zen Center. I’ve been sharing these posts here for others who might be interested. Close study of the teachings of the ancients can help both students and teachers notice details of the method and refresh their practice spirit. If you are working with a keyword with another teacher, consult… Read more

June 4, 2020

In this final post of the series on the keyword method of Dàhuì, I begin with a connection to Shakyamuni, move to more detail on Dàhuì’s teaching, cite a parallel with Dōgen, include a modest proposal to modify the kōan curriculum to more directly address contemporary issues, and close with Old Man Bob. Here goes: “Through the round of many births I roamed without reward, without rest, seeking the house-builder. Painful is birth again & again. House-builder, you’re seen! You will not… Read more

May 31, 2020

Let’s get right down to it Break through is a must if you want to verify the truth of this one great life and not just take others’ words for it, hiding behind the Buddha’s robes, as it were. Or hiding inside your own robes. Hiding in the bells and smells of Zen orthodoxy. Or spending a dharma career trying to talk others into believing that non-enlightenment is really enlightenment. Exhausting! Rather than just do a little bit of good… Read more

May 26, 2020

  The main point of this post is the importance of continuing to work the edge of life-death with the keyword  (e.g., 無, mu/no) even when it gets scary, even when it becomes a matter of letting go of life-death – that is, letting go of old fixed stances, of attachment to body-mind, and dropping body-mind. While digging into this point, though, a common issue arises – “I’m too dumb.” So I’ll address this issue as well, mixing it up… Read more




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