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, 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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three

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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alexandrine

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tea-friends

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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Fable

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.
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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-buffalo 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! … and the very end of night.

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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.
©2010

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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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Waka

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)

©2010

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Two

Knock in an arrow

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

Brettes

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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fragment

… 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’
thunder;
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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Wu-Hsing


M
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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