and if good things come in threes…

Make the body stable: use Posture –
Make the mind stable: use Time –
Sit with This.

◦ ◦
All that you are is contained herein, and
All that you are is contained herein, and
All that you are is contained herein,
Herein surrender.

◦ ◦ ◦
To the question: Why is our practice, which is training, which is also art, seemingly so endlessly rewarding?
The answer: Because it is True. If it were not true both we and it would tire.

◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦

Along the way we may encounter obstacles or even dead ends, but if we can return to the path it will never play us false. And because of these principles it will also never end, though we may find an ending.

These three good things are responses and reflections of an on-going enquiry into the
Taoof time, repetition, ancestral stream, karma; of guidance we might seek to impart in encouraging our younger self, which is that if we can let an ease of time into our study, leave off hurrying, we will find that the Way of Repetition changes things, changes us, subtly alters us. Instead of same again same again, same again becomes new again, and then new again.
Something happens!
You could say that being-time happens.

And how it bears within the spirit of a human life such treasure as to enlighten our ordinary darkness.
And how it shines in our practice then.


©March 2023
Year of the Rabbit

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one more step

Here, three thoughts arising, noted separately yet flecked with the same gold.

In practising together:

The teaching is not and comes not from above but works beside us.
Likewise, the teacher… not above but beside.

Which prompts the kung-an/koan 公案 of practising solo:

Whence comes the teaching then,
And where the teacher?



Passed a colour-field
On her way to samadhi –
Leap oblivion.



To have Faith in Self is not to be socially selfish or self-centred but to be released from the need
for, and from the desire of, the next, the next, the last and the next stimulation.
By oneself, one more step; a life in a day.

On the images:
A visit from Sun Lu-Tang,
Wu colourfield,
One more step.

See also On Paradox and
Mind-Push elsewhere
in these pages.

©September 2021



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Many accounts of the Ox-herding Pictures have been made through the centuries, each individual to their maker, yet becoming widely known by generations of ‘passing-on’.

As a sequence they have very often been set – and by some eminent teachers, too – during a period of retreat, over a week say, as a means of focus or adherence for those present, gathered to deepen their awareness and meditation.

It should also be said that context of the picture’s history and dissemination is nowadays easily available for any who wish further to pursue their own OX, should that wilful creature be errant or at large!

Here they are presented simply enough in a contemporary account, following the almost-folk tradition, and to mark the Lunar Year 2021.

To order full-text copies of The Ox-herding Meditations in Ten Pictures, click on the OX calligraphy and follow the details given there. For jaunty promo film, click on the image below.

© February 2021

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If when shadow comes, unquiet, restive in early morning,
Breaks-in from darkness into darker-ness,
Turns sorrow’s stone, whets doubt’s edge, sparks fear’s flint,
Then set your hands with Mind upon your Heart, wholeheartedly 無心 to say and say, and say aloud:
This is, and we are, and you are, and I am the solid ground.
Waking, say this.
LIGHT will hold you then.



In teaching as much as in learning, even in the transmission of Mind, there is always a natural limitation of Human·Being.
It is only of Heaven, of Tao in Continuing, that teaching is naturally unlimited, created limitless by UNKNOWING.
Ever thus, and in being down-to-earth, we are transformed.



If Tiger is Earth with Moon and Personal Spirit, then Dragon is Heaven with Sun and Universal Spirit.
This being so, it follows that we can only know or realise the Universal through the Personal, through a personal journey. So…



Coming to a threshold, in company of another, resting there: such is comfort.
Then stepping through, solus: such is dying before living, before LIVING.



New Year’s Moon: enters the Metal OX.
This is, and we are, and I am, and you are as strong as.


These indicators represent
a possible Day of Hours –
passages of meditative attention.
WU HSIN calligraphy, ink on card,
is by Anzu Sato and
reproduced here with gratitude.

©January 2021

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gravel garden

Afternoon, in hot sun – raking,
Tine snags at border,
Pebbles speckle on paving,
Breaking reverie – not of beach, but of Ryōanji –
To bring him home.

Past is passed, future comes presently. Written in
A letter from the world of emptiness:
Pay heed to this.


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a term within

These few thoughts, taken directly from my notebooks, thread to a close a year in which the gold of continuous practice has proven itself pre-eminent, where it moves softly from within.

How often it is the case: that the teaching happens after the teaching happens.
It is only very occasionally that the teaching happens at the moment of being given – which is transmission, working in the body as action, sometimes very powerfully, too.

It must naturally frustrate us, that in everyday thinking we cannot leap beyond the capacity of our own intellect and its (our) personal characteristics, of rational analysis, say, or spontaneous subjective imagining. We all have felt this on occasion.
Yet, in meditation-awareness this does not hold true, as everything at once inter-penetrating, is released, and there is no blindness or darkness but diamond clarity.

Some courage is needed and is developed through the practice. In the words of Nyogen Senzaki* whom I re-read this year: “Where a seed meets sunshine and water it strives of itself to grow.”
And in my phrase: In entering the tiger’s cave we have to be prepared to meet the tiger.

I braved a tiger of my own this summer, howsoever briefly; a visitor from the east. These two comments come from the several that I made at the time:
Bewilderment, confusion, resistance naturally… But only at the moment of truly giving-up does anything like learning happen.
Encountering this beguiling, shimmering tiger, whom I perceive to be an enlightened creature, is like to trying to sweep up leaves in a wind-storm; there is no place to gather.

And to other enquirers on the Way:

Remember this: and as you are beginning now to find –
Right-Posture opens Right-Mind
Which is WU HSIN  無 心
Which is the change you are experiencing
(and will continue to experience)
In your Heart.
Pay heed to this.

*From Eloquent Silence,
teachings and letters of
Nyogen Senzaki 1876-1958
Tiger (on door panels – Muryoji Temple, Kushimonto)
by Nagasawa Rosetsu 1754-1799

©December 2019

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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 realise 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 humorously 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 realise 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, even where set apart in solitude. We are, instead, practising with all the ancestors – this is Suzuki’s phrase – I like 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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All at sea,
As drop enters ocean, ocean enters –
Full fathom five.

Kanmachi Festival Float
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!


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 Matthiessen 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.


©September 2017

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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, unbidden.
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. I draw attention to it as a means of encouragement therefore, offering a direction of travel.
Read the rest of this entry →

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Going out he met Master Tao;
Coming home he met Mistress Ch‘an –
Nothing out of the ordinary.


In opening a gap in her thoughts
She knew to release the captive monkey from her mind
To live where it should,
In tree tops.


Sky flowers, sky burial,
Both the same.


©February 2016

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Imagine the delight, after the steep uphill trudge away from the town, to emerge upon the eminence of the moon-viewing platform, sap and scent of mountain pine all about you and the prospect of a few hours spent observing the haze and colour of a summer downing sun over the stepped paddies and distant temple eaves.

Such were the quiet indulgences of tea-friends in a long-ago China; perhaps – and we must be hopeful –  in some places they still are. Gathered together they might fall to playfulness, and while setting the brazier coals to brighten and the kettle upon it again, improvise a verse whose meter, passed quickly voice to voice, produced a final line of satisfying completeness.
And then there would be wonder at the cloud-silent coming of the moon…
And no doubt, round about now, Sweet Dew would draw her flute from her sleeve and float silver phrases upon the upward drifting breeze.

Our annual tim’studio picnic is not quite such an event, yet these kinds of gatherings were its inspiration: To meet, to undertake our Tai Chi Forms, to prepare food, take tea, and at the moment that wu wei ease comes between us to undertake a playful yet clear-minded task.
This year I asked for a sentence or image – ON NATURE COMING INTO STILLNESS; my part being to offer a small prize and then to elucidate from the charcoal-y papers a free-form verse.

Leaf into leaf-shade,

Water-falls on water,
Dusk-blushing peony nods, retires (hoping that none observe her, perhaps).
Tree lets drop: seed cap to seed Earth.

Slip-away shingle waves… That sound!

Cat meditates. Vesper-stars snow.
Flame snuffs to smoke thread…
And whose curious stone is this?
And whose desire still for yellow wine and cake?


with contributions from: Olivia, Susanna, Colin, Cadi, Anzu, Maymay, Risa, Alec, Sara

©September 2015


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How often we need to repeat things, repeat a teaching, even to ourselves… Is this is why fables are read to the young? They are not necessarily easy to comprehend but they are easy to hear and follow, with their many repeated words and phrases, where often the child may join in, half-chanting their favourite parts aloud.
Read the rest of this entry →

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seventeen syllables





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a banner

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Tale: Leaving Lao Tzu

Crossing the open ground between the last of the buildings and the palisade the low broad form of the water-ox seemed hardly to disturb the fog of the air, other than with soft dust-eddies about her solemn hooves. It was the hour before dawn, judged the man riding her back, and as cold as it was likely to get. The tea of his gourd wrapped close under his robe had long since lost heat. What a place, at the very end of night.

Read the rest of this entry →

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the heart of taiji

at the heart of our martial Art is Peace,

which also is Truth 

at the heart of peace is Self defence,
which also is being at one with our own Ground 

at the heart of self defence is regular Practice,
which also is Meditation

at whose heart lies our return to the Source 

Thus we tread the paths of tradition, the Old and wandering Way,
to find ourselves on misted Ascents that climb to the Pass of enlightenment


I have used the pinyin taiji here, in the title.
In lower case in particular it has a pleasing balance that, even
given my desire for consitencey, I find occasionally impossible to resist.

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San Ju Shi

Lights the warrior his lamp,
Shallow dish of fire
             In this high summer.

With such Illumination
Who can not perceive
            A way of Heaven.

Mountain rises, falling ground,
Breath of cloud touch’d pine –
             What a place to walk.

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Shan Tung Hsuan

And on the table of his hermit cell,
Where mountain light leaned in low diagonals,
Particulars of his mantic art set out: tree-tallow, jade, yarrow, water-compass,
And paper Talismans, ribbon-tied to the post at entrance –
Almanac of all to be and not to be… 

He came in felt-soled silence;
I had not known him there
Were it not for the chatter of his tame langur,
Slender companion of his refuge, of cinnabar tufts to ears and tail,
That leaped to the master’s mantle sleeve at my turning.

I slipped my pack, sat to the moss ground at his beckoning,
Took draught of steaming cordial of osmanthus –
Since… seven years have passed, and passed, and hands of clouds…

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One map of one world,
Eight dragons in compass lie ~
Seven lightning stars,
Three seas – heaven, earth, thee – and
Two ways ~ O! go gently there.

(Here, a verse – and accompanying image – waka in the Japanese style, following a very ancient form known as tanka – of 31 syllables or characters, in the pattern 5,7,5,7,7)


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Knock in an arrow

On returning to the woods,
The familiar ways –
New moon, same old bow.


Daze of willow green above
Water running through –
Silent orchids come.

These are not quite haiku,
though as they each have 17 syllables they
are perhaps my take on that form, but with an English sensibility.

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… to continue, walking the lake’s edge,
walking, fearful of falling,
the icy abysm of water, a wind that cuts open,
finding the upland path, penetrating stillness of
woods, mountain rises, closeness of clouds’
clinging to the prospect of fire at dusk,
laid upon the earth; the heat-leaping joy of it,
and nearness of heaven…


(Here the eight tri-grams of Pa Kua derived from the I Ching are illustrated in a verse,
in which a fulfilling sense of roundness and of completion may be discernable.)

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etal that is dull,

Water that nothing quenches,
Wood that is rotted,
Fire that is but smoking snuff,
Earth that has not peace ~ these fail.

Whet-edge the metal,
Let us pour silver water,
Plane fairest light-wood,
Tender, fan, blaze a white fire,
Rise to life ~ bind peace in earth.

(Here, two short verses, or tanka, which is a Japanese poetic form, each of five lines following the syllabic pattern 5,7,5,7,7 These are written to make a succinct point, sometimes in the guise of a word game or riddle. This contrary pair illustrates the Five Elements/Activities, or wu-hsing, and perhaps too, a wrong-minded and then a right-minded way of living.)

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