continuity

In a time of on-going uncertainty, guidance may, with seeming serendipity, appear and open of itself before us.  This, at least, has been my experience. In just such a manner, a short (at barely three pages) and informal teisho* of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi opened in the prop of my hand one evening recently at bedtime, and with such potency in its mirroring of my thoughts (reflecting my own path in teaching), that I determined upon waking in the morning to set down its kernel-matter as best I could, using my own words*.

All the teaching comes from practising, through which a way (Tao) is transmitted to us. To practise is to open up our (Tao) Mind and experience all the treasures coming from it. In other words: in order to realize our (Tao or) transmitted Mind, I/we practise.

We should practise right where we are, going step by step, appreciating our everyday lives. There really is no need to travel – what Suzuki calls ‘going sight-seeing’ (from school to school, discipline to discipline). And if you do travel, even though everyone will be friendly and happy to see you, you will surely stretch distance and money, and if you do find a teacher it will be difficult to understand her or study with him. Better to stay at home, watching yourself going slowly, step by step.
If you can go slowly, without any thought of gain, you are already a good student.

There is no trick, no secret on the way – no sudden enlightenment, just continuous practice.

Slowly you will realize that your practice is your true nature; even your thinking, as you practise, is your true nature. What you had previously thought to be your true nature, that part of you that you had educated into representing and being ‘you’, is not you.

I will ask you, as I ask myself: Who is that continuously practises? And that is not easy to answer, because I/you cannot determine or see the beginning of the practice, neither its end. Continuous means that it is without end or beginning, beyond even the span of our present life… So, it is difficult to say, who is practising right now.

One thing we should be clear about, is that we are not practising alone, or on our own. We are, instead, practising with all the ancestors – this is Suzuki’s phrase – I prefer to say that we are practising within the ancestral stream; that our practice is without gain or slip, neither good nor bad. That in continuous practice there is no waste in or of time, and that we do not practise for others or for ourselves.

Whatever we call it: Tao, Buddha, Wu… practise (verb) and practice (noun) is and brings forth its own sake, and our fundamental nature.

Just practise.

Thank you very much.




*Strictly speaking the Japanese word teisho
would indicate a formal Dharma talk, or even exegesis
of a koan. Suzuki, however,
knowing his California audience, was fond of the informal.
My short essay has been drawn from his Walk Like an Elephant in the
collection Not Always So: talks tape-recorded in situ and later transcribed.

*I undertake this is in a spirit of modesty rather
than comparison, finding it a useful way truthfully
to uncover the meaning heart of a great teacher’s words. 

©June 2019

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mind-drown

All at sea,
As drop enters ocean, ocean enters –
Full fathom five.



Kanmachi Festival Float
painting/detail
by Hokusai.
© Trustees of the British Museum,
with kind permission.

© June 2019

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TAO leaves falling, let fall

During the two-week meditation programme of August 2017 (see previous entry), quotations of others together with journal-notes and verse-exhortations of my own played a prominent part. In the days and weeks that have followed some of these persist so as to be often in my mind, blown there by autumn winds.

‘Just sitting’ is to get to our True Mind, the mind not accessible to thinking.
This mind cannot be consciously known by ordinary effort. An unusual effort is necessary.
This effort is ‘just sitting’.
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.

Sit with Heart,
Sit with Marrow,
Sit with Tea.

The taste of Chan (meditation) is the taste of Cha (tea).
Chinese temple saying.

Truth not far, nearer than near.

Raise the posture in Faith.

Mind behind mind.

Empty like this! Empty like this!

 

NA-MO TA-PEI KUAN SHIH YIN PU-SA
Dedication: Sanskrit with Chinese.

Earth buries as
Ore despoils as
Water drowns as
Wood founders as
Fire blasts as
Fire comforts as
Wood contrives as
Water saves as
Ore conserves as
Earth unearths us

I aspire to One Mind, Dream Awakening, Without Boundaries,
and sometimes sitting on my black cushion I approach these states.
In the far more difficult ‘just sitting’ of daily life,
there remains a dismaying separation between what I know and what I am.
Peter Matthiessen.

Sit with WU 
Sit with MU  
Sit with This 
Sit with Living  
Sit with Dying 
Sit with End 
Sit with Beginning 

There you are! There you are! There you are!
Who is this? Who is this? Who is this?

If you were not born in this world, there would be no need to die.
To be born in this world is to die, to disappear.
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.

The quotations of Suzuki are taken from
The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki
(biography) by David Chadwick.
Peter Matthiessesen quote is from his
Nine Headed Dragon River.
I have not sought permissions but hope that in the
spirit of companionship they would happily give them.
The temple saying and invocation
of Kuan Yin are traditional.
Other material: the author.
©September 2017

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two weeks in August

The seed of this two-week meditation programme was planted around five years ago, sometime in 2012; I found that I wanted to see if I could convey to a group, or allow to happen within a group, something of what I was experiencing in my own simply-structured sitting practice. The occasional MEDITATIONs Study Days were the result, although these included standing, lying and walking, alongside just sitting. Later, finding that the one-off days were very much worthwhile, both to myself and those who came to them, I started to wonder if I could offer the same kind of experience over a sustained period, say two weeks; this August 2017, it became possible. I decided to keep a journal.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD THE JOURNAL AS A PDF BOOKLET

©September 2017

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privileges

After the early practice a question comes:

How is it?

Wu Tao Hsin 無道信 raises his eyes.

You ask me this morning, how it is?

He adjusts the twist of scarf at his neck, takes a sup of the soft-amber tea.

The Buddhists would say:
There is Form and there is Emptiness, Emptiness and Form.

A Taoist, if she utters at all, might say:
Wu!.. Just this.

Today I say to you, and I think perhaps most practically:
There is love and there is mortality, these two inseparable privileges of HumanBeing.
Love and Mortality.
This is how it is.

He takes a further sup, adding,

And these three answers are each the same.

©December 2016

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sky flowers

In response Wu Tao-hsin道信 pointed;
Holding nothing back
He gives everything away,
Even his name.
Yet the seeker, ever looking,
Does not see the flowers –
And time grows short.

 

Go through this practice –
You can taste the one thing
And not be two, and not be three.
When you have tasted one, rinse your mouth
To be thirsty again.

 

©June 2016

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go deeper

Understand this: that I make these observations in order to let them go.

In the wrestling act of writing ‘on paradox’, companion piece to this (see previous entry), I experienced a series of felt, entirely natural, ‘openings’ – as though all the windows in the house, the road, the town, were suddenly thrown wide…
Light dazzles: tears come, irrepressibly.
To make clear at once: there is not necessarily a sense of personal advance here, certainly no sense of claiming such, but there is without doubt a sense of intuitive response, of going deeper; a response which, as karma, becomes inevitable rather than achieved. I draw attention to it as a means of encouragement therefore, offering a direction of travel.
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on paradox

Following a period of practice – and it may be counted in years – it will happen that the body begins to find a balance, naturally. It is at this liminal place, as between dawn and day that the mind, gradually or suddenly, is set free.

In treading the heavily wooded path toward the numinous, distant as a crystal mountain, I have recently found myself returning to the use of paradox as a means of cutting through: to truth not far – nearer than near… This for myself but also in the spurring-on of others. Or, put the other way around and therefore paradoxically: Paradox seems to be using me.
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seventeen syllables

 

 

 

 

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on marking a passing

It is written in the Tradition* that Humankind follows Earth, that Earth follows Heaven, that Heaven follows Tao – the meta-matter of Nature entire.

Seen from here, in Earth and in our lives: This is the procession of Season by which we measure our span.

Seen from Heaven: This is the pattern of Form, that is elementary; our meagre comprehension of time and dimension falling away.

Tao has not regard of itself, as mind does not see Mind; is ineluctable, as dark as light, aware unknowing… and the wonder by which we, unaccountably, stir: taken in grief, taken in joy… taken in grief, taken in grief, taken in grief… and at the last, taken in love.

 

*from the brush of Lao Tzu, entry 25
©October 2014

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retreat, return, backwards-flowing

Much can be learned from Distance – in particular the distance allowed us by Time.

Needing a little distance just recently, a little wilderness, and following an inner prompt, I took myself to the north of England, to the skies and changeable autumn weather of the high Yorkshire moors; the journey there, the finding of an isolated cottage falling into place with wu wei ease.

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breathes in’s heels

From Chuang Tzu the sentence, ‘the True Man breathes in his heels’, has for a long time – and I mean many years – lain in my mind, occasionally rising to the surface, fish-like, to take a moment of air; and again just recently…

Chuang Tzu is full of these unexplained insights: twinkles in the overall master-work. Meanings are partially felt, only.

Those quick to claim certainty might exclaim: “Here! Here is proof of the well-spring of Taoist alchemy – the esoterica of heel-breathing, the mystic path to longevity. Let the teaching be freely expounded (or charged for!), its secret methods explained…”
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the Four Dignities

Standing Lying Walking Sitting

 

To live a retiring life, Taoist or otherwise, to follow hermitage ways, it might indeed be possible to embody the dictum: when hungry, eat – when tired, rest; although, as with any ‘way’, this too might take many years to master, or to make artless. For most of us it would not be practical; we cannot just retreat, leave off and take to the hidden hills. It is rather the case that if, in fact, we desire to bring something of that lost naturalness into our lives, we must track entirely differently; we must turn again, lace-up our stoutest boots, come down into the valley and with a wind at our backs wear our way with the world rather than seek to leave it.
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on White Tiger, Green Dragon

  • Taoism has a fondness for symbols and patterns largely taken from the natural world and seasons. Presumably these arose as a means of passing on teaching and traditions; of simply having a conversation without misunderstanding. As in the ancient world, so now.
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TAO leaves

Watching forest bamboo at a distance, on a hillside maybe, full of wind and swaying vigorously, it becomes difficult for us to discern a tree singly – a bough rising from earth to heaven – harder still to pick out an individual leaf. We have to move closer. Then we have it: shape, colour, manner of growing, blade-edged and tongue supple. These we may consider leaves:

  • If our practice in awareness brings us to a place of intuition then it becomes practical to act in light of that intuition. Why would one not?
  • Draw on, gently to open the heart of our minds, and know at last the mind of our heart.
  • It begins in stillness.
  • There is patience and there is perseverance: both are needed.
  • An un-quiet mind, that which Ch’an calls ‘monkey’, cannot be subjugated into quietness. Rather, let it have its time of randomness. Quietness may steal in when you least expect it.
  • Our postures should have clarity outside and in, with the beauty of balance.
  • Understanding follows quietness.
  • Action is a consequence of consciousness; our practice is to make both right.
  • Truth understood changes truth perceived: be uncertain therefore of absoluteness.
  • Treat all gently.
  • Imagination is valid awareness and may be as substantial as action.
  • Rest in spontaneity. (Alan Watts: thank you)
  • Resist past and future, instead observe the seasons.
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on the composition of One-ness, way of Realization

“The following short piece was written in 2012: it is now 2018. Coming upon it unexpectedly, I thought, ‘No, this is not quite how I would write this now.’, and wondered if perhaps to take it down. Instead I have decided to let it stay, as a reminder that even our discoveries in awareness change and deepen through the arc of time and experience, and there are still some ready truths herein .” The author.

In our study of Tai Chi, whether it be in learning Forms or making application of postures, it is most often the case that we are exploring their inherent fluid duality.  This is the Yin/Yang of things, as we have learned to pronounce: bravely assuming the ancient Chinese as a short-cut to discussion, its meaning borne out in testing, where each posture, either in movement or stillness, has indeed a combination of these two inseparable Virtues at its core. And yet… and yet…  Beyond satisfaction, where actually does that get us?

Well, certainly it assists our journey. There is no doubt that having an understanding of yin with yang – ‘knowing’ them, as writes Lao Tzu – is to have an insight into supra-universal nature, and we must surely thrill to its spark in us. Yet even that ‘knowing’ does not reveal the whole. It is but a component part. Knowledge alone cannot deliver the self to Oneness; we must have a means, a method.
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