Buddhist Language

In this video John discusses this quote by Pai Chang: “All verbal teachings are just like cures for diseases, because the diseases are not the same, the medicines are also not the same, that is why it is said that there is Buddha, and sometimes that there is no Buddha. True words cure sickness, if the cure manages to bring about healing then all are true words, if they cannot cure sickness they are false words. True words are false words, insofar as they bring about views, false words are true words, insofar as they cut off delusion, because the diseases are unreal, there are only unreal medicines to cure them.”

Adapted from Kusen given on 21st August 2020


Pai-Chang’s Three levels of Zazen

Pai-chang, who lived during Tang Dynasty China, and was a successor of Master Mazu (Baso), said that there were three levels of Zazen.
The first level, which he equated with Theravadan practice, is non-attachment.
The second level, which he calls ‘the trap of Bodhisattvas’, is when we are no longer attached to non-attachment, but retain a sense of ourselves.
The third level is when the residual sense of self is dropped off, leaving just this is-ness.

In this video John examines this  to clarify the meaning as not pointing to a progressive system which we go through, aiming to attain and remain at the ‘highest’ level, but that each level is  more like a particular space within this vast hall of practice, and  we move freely between these spaces within our actual sitting.

Adapted from Kusen No. 303 given on

Practice Realisation

In this video John examines the relationship between teachings and practice.

Adpated from kusen given on 8th August 2020


The Buddha’s Enlightenment

In this video John examines the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
In the classic version, the Buddha attains enlightenment while sitting underneath the bodhi tree, vowing not to get up until he has finally awakened. In the night Mara attempts to unsettle him with apparitions of fear and desire.As dawn approaches the Buddha touches the ground and Mara disappears. As dawn breaks, the Buddha looks up to the sky and sees the morning star, at this point attaining awakening.

Adapted from Kusen given on 1st Augst



In this video John talks about faith within the framework of practice. In contrast to the common western view where ‘faith’ is synonymous with ‘belief’, here it has a subtler meaning. This has significant implications for how we approach our own practice and our fellow practitioners and how we engage with the lineage.

Adapted from Kusen given on 25th July 2020

The Eyes of Practice

In this video John discusses the difference between seeing the world through the eyes of the self, and seeing the world through the eyes of practice.
“When we see the world through the eyes of the self we grasp things with our certainty. So we say things like, “oh that’s a wall”, “there’s the sky out there”, “oh time is passing”, “my zazen isn’t very good today”, and so on, the quality of our experience has a slightly weird apparational quality about it, neither existence nor non-existence because seeing in this way, through the eyes of the self, through the eyes of certainty, the world exists within our mind, and, as it were, we exist within our mind as well.
Seeing through the eyes of practice is entirely different, we do out best not to grasp our moment to moment experience with our certainty, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves, and when we do we just learn to release that grip of certainty. And the feeling tone when we see in this way is entirely different, it’s as if we become soft, and open, and connected.

Adapted from Kusen given on 21/07/2020

The Ghost Cave

The Buddha said that our state of perception when we meditate is not ordinary perception, it’s not a special kind of perception, it’s not disordered perception and it’s not no perception: so what is it?

Adapted from Kusen given on 18th July 2020


Beginningless and Endless

Chinese culture is unusual for us in that it doesn’t have a creation myth of the sort that almost all western cultures have, e.g. there is no divinity or god that brings the world into existance.
This has significant consequences for how we think about the world and structure it. If we think of the world as having been brought about by something else, the world is always secondary. If we think of it as having a creation point, an arrow of time is implied; the precarious present is allways barely clinging on, like a person running across a collapsing bridge into deep fog.
If we don’t have a creation myth in the normal form then all the things that we think of as acting upon the world are qualities of the world.

Adapted from Kusen. 297 give on 14th july 2020


Everyday Life

At the end of chapter 16 of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, where Nagarjuna is talking about Nirvana, he writes the following:
“People who say that they want to stop grasping and get the state of Nirvana are really grasping for something. In the state where Nirvana is not something to be attained and everyday life is not something to be abandoned, what is everyday life, how shall we conceive of Nirvana?”

In this Video John examines this question, and how we can understand “everyday life”

Video adapted from kusen given on 11th July 2020


In this video, John explores the concept of Nirvana. It is often easy to misunderstand Nirvana as a goal or a state that we must attain. Even when we imagine we have a more sophisticated understanding, it is still often easy to catch ourselves ‘polishing a tile’ during practice, and this seems to be hard to resist, particularly as we are profoundly influenced by a culture that is particularly individualistic and acquisitive, even whilst pretending otherwise .
Here John tries to clarify what is meant by Nirvana and how this relates to the practice of Zazen.

Adapted from Kusen No. 295 given on 19th July 2020