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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tai chi enso

FIGHT SKILL PARTNERING TAI CHI
SOLO FORMS
CHI KUNG MEDITATION
Trained-in response:
un-hesitating action,
thought into space,
nowhere everywhere.

Repeated testing:
action and response,
internal/external,
reflexive thought.


Whole mind,
whole body:

action in balance,
with time in space.


Body becoming
aware of/with/by
itself. Vital posture,
inner pattern.


Just sitting –
standing/lying/walking.
Thought into space,
nowhere everywhere.


 

It can sometimes be useful to offer guidance in a written or diagrammatic way as a means of supporting our physical, practical experience. Here (above, and best viewed on a pc/laptop rather than a phone) I am detailing Tai Chi Form practice within a possible spectrum of neighbouring disciplines. It should be noticed that both directions of travel (or acquiring skill) are possible, and that these are not fixed, but fluid positions.
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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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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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on practice

Only meditate and awareness appears; then we must know that a human life – our own – is necessarily acted upon by that which is naturally occurring in the world – its obvious forms; yet also, from that which is naturally hidden – its mysterious forms. Then must we further recognise that our inclinations, in terms of mood, activity, health, are in their turn affected by the habit of the seasons, together with our maturing, beside the procession of Earth the Moon and Sun through the vault of Heaven’s Time.  Read the rest of this entry →

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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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a banner

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bone matters

From elsewhere in these pages:

Imagination is valid awareness and may be as substantial as action…

It is relatively easy, given time, to develop awareness in the External ways of Tai Chi, by our senses and especially through partner work: the softest touch, an advance turned away, a cracking blow… Each of these leaving behind their resonance of energy – of their having been: as warm as breath, as cool as air, as bruise to the bone
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follow the Horse

The beginning of the year: waking in a cold room, and a dream so close that there is a moment to know it before the inevitable dissolve… the elusive meaning of Embrace Tiger, Return to the Mountain comes to me with a felt-in-the-body clarity… just as the Year of the Horse canters in…
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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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… it’s about faith. No, really!

Most years, at some point when I am teaching, I will hear myself repeating to the group words of my first teacher: ‘… the thing is’, he would say, ‘ you kinda just have to believe me…’. He was demonstrating the standing posture for Chi Kung, then correcting ours/mine.

I knew a little about Sitting in meditation at this time, but the Standing Jan Chung was new to me, perhaps even relatively new in Europe… (it being the early 1980s it had probably only been around in the West for twenty to thirty years). Yet something went into me, rooted me; at some level I did, indeed, believe. And belief, at a later stage, turned into trust: I trusted my teacher fairly easily (I’m like that), then I began to trust our Form… Read the rest of this entry →

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Spring breaking

Perhaps we most often think of the power/virtue of chi as being mysterious, soft, soundless, appearing from nature’s hidden side.

This isn’t always so: sometimes it is mundane, noisy, prosaic, very much in the here and now… and mischievous.
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out of our skins

The year of the Snake has crept in, close to the ground, yin in aspect, water and Earth. The snake has much to teach: about patience and then directness and of how these two abide together.

In our culture to say of someone that they are self-centred is to be pejorative, meaning that they are self-ish and see all that happens around them as actions and achievement reflective of themselves. They are sun and fire without the balance of moon and water.

Yet in our practice of Tai Chi we are most often encouraged to move from our Centre – to develop self-awareness. A Koan-like puzzle is thereby prompted:

Where is the Self centred?

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knots in the thread

With the shortest day gone beyond*, and as a year in practice knots the thread of its ending to that now beginning, now continuing…

These informal notebook thoughts have taken a direction, a bearing, unexpected by their writer… How these traditional Forms – our training – begun largely as means of expressing a facility(?), an aesthetic, a moving; then becoming a way of skill – the martial virtue; now sublimating their maker/teacher/doer… as in a mighty wave that never drowns.
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on Letting Go

On letting go –in the Body

In practising Tai Chi, whether in learning patterns, Forms, or martial applications it is important to step with the whole body, whole foot: thence to walk on, without leaving a trace. (This is a skill developed by Hsing I training in particular)
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finding, following

Finding and then following ideas in Tai Chi, working on them by one-self, within a group or with a single other, may take many directions; we should be open to them. Sometimes it pays to explore and be discursive; at other times to be quick and straightforward. To be in good humour helps and is a characteristically Taoist approach. Here is a pattern of study that has emerged in my own practice.
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towards Solstice, Centre, Stillness

Three practical tips to guide any meditation, moving or still

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Mind-push

A Koan (Japanese: an expression still in common usage) was set at the conclusion of a recent class, non-compulsorily and as gift.

This is an ancient method of puzzle-question (or statement) designed to penetrate to the heart/mind of a particular teaching.
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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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Hares boxing: martial arts

Being Practical

  • Vertical Golden Thread swings: in the rise of the swing keep Earth under your feet, and in the fall of the swing keep Heaven at the top of you head. And the use of the word ‘thread’ here is not a misnomer: the energy that moves in the long bone (spine) is spiral, or, more accurately, helical: centrifugal, centripetal, and bi-directional.  Imagine a thread cross-section and you will see it.
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February leaps

There are many forms and variables of balance; even chaos has balance, this is what Tai Chi means.

It follows that there is a balance to be found within each of our senses, and then between or through them.
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on Dragons

 

  •  Chief among the attributes of the Dragon, in Chinese thought and mysticism, is the ability to move with ease between Heaven and Earth. In human terms this means to be at ease in all or most situations, and to deal with people evenly; to be socially skilful and to communicate well.
  • The Dragon also signifies Tao. Study and practice of Tai Chi/Meditation – a personal/spiritual training – seeds within us a clear-mindedness that allows movement between things and people, thoughts and disciplines, without disconnection.
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