Archive for February, 2018


I did that thing again!

Devoted readers may recall that just recently (less than four years ago, anyway), I went up to Zen Mountain Monastery for the Basic Space Intensive (the first one there was, I think) one Thursday, and didn’t return until the next Sunday.

Well, I did it again! And this time, it was Winter!


That’s the Doshinji sign again, only this time in the winter. And, like last time, taken from the car on the way out, because the phone was of course locked in the car and turned off the whole time of the retreat, and I only remembered to take a picture at the last moment. (I was going to sneak back with the phone and take some around the monastery, but I got distracted by helping get a car unstuck from the snow, and forgot.)

It was all just as great as last time. Lots and lots and lots of sitting zazen. Lots of work on the whole “who am I?” question, and that “I just don’t see how I am me” feeling from my childhood. A cat, although this time one named Rudy instead of one that I vaguely think was there in 2014 named Moss.

I didn’t do face-to-face teaching, either diasan (with sansei) or dokusan (with roshi), because at first I didn’t feel like I had anything to bring in, and later because I was kinda tired of The Forms. I did, though, sit on the couch at the very end, when the silence was lifted and we could just talk whenever we wanted (weird!), and talk to Yukon about how to have compassion for A when A is being seriously nasty to B (we didn’t entirely figure it out). As well as being a Senior Monastic and Monastery Gardner, Yukon is the flippin’ salt o’ the Earth, and people kept coming up and hugging him and laughing with him and stuff, and it was all highly gratifying.

I did oryoki a bunch (four?) more times, and did just fine, and that was cool. I cleaned the bathrooms a couple more times (I have cleaned the bathrooms in the monastery and the Dharma Communications building a number of times now; they’re always spotless to begin with, so it’s a somewhat challenging practice that way), and peeled a whole bunch of potatoes once (which was more obviously useful, and especially neat since later that same day I ate some of them in yummy soup).

My knees got very achy, but I never quite fell poom on my bottom in the zendo like last time. I spent a long long time walking in circles slowly around and around the downstairs dining hall during the unstructured afternoons; I hope I didn’t drive anyone crazy!

Here is some stuff I thought about:

What about this?

We know that to avoid being changed into a fox, when asked “Is the realized person subject to the law of cause and effect?”, you should say “The realized person is one with the law of cause and effect.”

If asked “Does the realized person avoid all suffering?”, should one similarly avoid being changed into a fox by saying, “The realized person is one with all suffering?”.

I didn’t ask Yukon this, as it seemed overly theoretical, and I know that I tend to be far too theoretical. But I did say “Samsara is Nirvana, Nirvana is Samsara” once, and when he raised a finger and said “Ah, when realized!”, I said “well, we could have a discussion about that”.

Maybe someday!

Lovecraftian Zen

That’s when you finally see your true face, before your parents were born, and it’s a horrifying mass of quivering tentacles!


Three Questions

What should I do?
Who am I?
What is this?

I thought about these considerable. The first one is the basic practical question. We seem to have lots of ideas about it, or at least we are always doing things. But you’d think that in order to know what I should do, I really ought to know who I am and what this is, and I don’t.

I talked about this a little with Hokyu and someone else I fear I forget who. We know what we should do for our bodies; “when hungry, eat; when thirsty, drink”. Hokyu connected that to Bankei’s idea of the unborn (like maybe say here), which is just there and you don’t have to think about it. I thought (but don’t think I said) that we also have advice about preparing for the future and taking care of the community (“chop wood, carry water”), and about following practices (“Have you finished your rice? Then wash your bowl.”).

None of these seem to require knowing who you are or what this is, but still. It seems like if it were to turn out that I am something very different, and/or that this is something very unexpected, it might follow that I should do something else. Hard to say!

The Wheelbarrow

A monk addressed the assembly, saying “Does anyone know where the blue wheelbarrow is? I want to use it to move some grass clippings this afternoon.”

A novice spoke up. “I’m sorry,” said the novice, “I think I left it by the shed in the East field; I’ll bring it back before lunch.”

“Great,” replied the monk, “Thanks alot.”

This is what realistic Zen stories are like. Probably it is also a koan.

The Secret of Enlightenment

This is a great secret, because I just make it up, so no one knows it but me, and now you.

This is what really happens when you become enlightened: the Pure Mind (the ultimate and unborn) in you loosens the tethers that connect it to all appearances, memory, concepts, thought, personality, desire, aversion, and everything else, so that it is free and no longer bound.

Once that happens, your Pure Mind can swap with any other bits of Pure Mind nearby (or far away, or past, or future), at will. (Well, not “at will”, because will is one of the things that it is free of, but perhaps “when appropriate”.)

This happens, on average, every few hours.

So the Pure Mind that is reading these words right now (through the salient appearances and perceptions and so on), might a few hours ago have been experiencing playing with its toes in its crib as a tiny baby, or soaring in the sky as a hawk.

Memory stays put, of course, and doesn’t travel with the Pure Mind (how could it?), so you (“you”) don’t remember having recently been a hawk. But now and then for whatever ineffable reason a bit, a whiff, a hint, of somethingness does manage to transfer. So when it seems to you that you feel suddenly elevated, thrilled, free and flying, despite having been just sitting there reading Twitter all day, it may be because the Pure Mind that is now experiencing Twitter was moments ago experiencing the chilly updrafts of a fjord. (Do fjords have updrafts and hawks? They should.)

I can’t think of any way that this could be false. Or true!

Other secrets of enlightenment

Another secret of enlightenment is that it’s not really that huge a deal, it’s just sort of looking up one day and realizing that everything’s pretty cool, and it’s not worth getting to worked up about, and imperfection is just perfect. As the Zen Story goes

There was once a wise and venerated fish who preached about water. Water, he would say, surrounds and supports us. We are all in and of the water, and where there is nothing else there is water.

Fish came from all over the ocean to hear him teach. ‘I have nothing to teach,’ he said, ‘only enjoy the water,’ but they came anyway, and some of them began to understand the water, and some of them came to understand it fully, and were called awakened.

One day a fish came and said ‘Teach me of the water’. The teacher said ‘I have nothing to teach. The water is all around us, above and below, and it fills the spaces where nothing else is.’

The fish frowned thoughtfully. ‘You mean this stuff?’ he asked, and flicked a fin so that a wave of water lightly struck the teacher’s face.

‘Yes,’ said the teacher, bowing his head and smiling in acknowledgement ‘that is the water; I see you have attainment.’

‘Oh,’ said the fish, surprised, ‘that’s it?’

‘That’s it.’

‘Oh, okay,’ said the fish, ‘nice weather we’re having, eh?'”

But I’m not sure that that’s really enlightenment, ’cause I got that when I was like 19 or so, and I’m no one special.

The other secret is that no one actually gets enlightened, because if people did (other than in old stories that happened long ago and far away) there would be like plaques on the walls of some monasteries saying “Here is where J. Fred Muggs got enlightened on 24 Feb 2012”, and in others there’d be a little cork board with a numbered tag like they have in the deli, saying how many students of the school had become enlightened since the founding in 1994 or whatever. (You know there would!)

Really we’re all enlightened (and Buddhas to boot). There’s a thing about realizing that you’re enlightened, or realizing what it means, or truly understanding what it means at more than a mere intellectual level. But that’s comparatively hella subtle.

I’m not saying Zen is a racket or anything; for every “let those who would attain enlightenment contemplate this night and day”, there’s a “there is no attainment of wisdom, and no wisdom to attain”. So it’s sort of right up front there, that despite how sort of everyone sort of talks about becoming enlightened, that’s in fact not it at all (and that not being it at all is sort of it, entirely). Or, um, something. :)


And lastly, I had told the Monastery program folks that I’m told I snore, so they moved me from room 41 (where I think I slept both other times I’ve been there), down to Dorm 2, where it was just me and one other guy, who had a CPAP machine with him. (Have I ever written about my CPAP machine? I have one, but basically never use it because it is annoying.)

We couldn’t talk, of course, and I was convinced that I was constantly snoring and keeping the poor other person awake, and when I saw him dozing on a sofa one afternoon I was sure it was my fault he hadn’t slept at night, and even felt like a few times I walked into a room where he was, and he got up and walked out because maybe he couldn’t stand my presence with all the snoring.

So when we could talk again the first thing I said to him was that I hoped he’d gotten some sleep despite my snoring, and he said oh he’d probably bothered me more than I had him, and he hadn’t noticed me snoring significantly at all.

That was nice. :) How we worry ourselves!

And now it’s a few days later, and time has been whizzing by and I keep not finishing this up and posting it. So now I shall!






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