‘Life is too short to be in a hurry’ – Thoreau

Transitions (Wellington Southern Walkway, NZ)
Transitions, photograph by Anne Dick, Wellington Southern Walkway, NZ

A practitioner’s perspective, on and off the zafu – Two

There’s something rather absurd about rushing to get to zazen (meditation) yet that’s sometimes what happens –  arriving to sit out of breath and with a head still teeming with the busyness of the day. For some people lockdown will make that less likely, for some people more of a risk.

Although our practice of zazen is of just sitting without any specific focus it can help to have a transition at times like that, just before the bell rings at the start.

Counting the breath from one to ten can help recalibrate. Counting one on an in breath and two on the out breath then continuing like that up to ten before dropping from the counting into full awareness. 

If the body is tight with tension, doing a brief body scan before the bell rings, without making any conscious effort to relax, can allow your body to have the space to release into the sitting.  

First becoming aware of the breath in your abdomen before taking your awareness up to the top of your head then from the top of your head, over your face and neck down your shoulders and hands to your fingers then from your shoulders down your torso, back and front, down your legs and feet then returning up the body back to the top of the head, noticing as you travel through the body in each direction how each part feels, without trying to change anything. 

Then the bell rings and you can just sit.


References: Kusen 284 Dogen’s Dharma Hall Discourse number 24

Not Attaining, Not Knowing . Dharma Hall Discourse Here is a story. [Tianhuang] Daowu asked Shitou, “What is the essential meaning of Buddha Dharma?” Shitou said, “Not attaining, not knowing.” Daowu said, “Beyond that, is there any other pivotal point or not?” Shitou said, “The wide sky does not obstruct the white clouds drifting.” Not attaining, not knowing is Buddha’s essential meaning. The wind blows into the depths, and further winds blow. The wide sky does not obstruct the white clouds drifting. At this time, why do you take the trouble to ask Shitou? Blue Mountains Walking; Giving Birth at Night . Dharma Hall Discourse Deeply see the blue mountains constantly walking.


References: Kusen 283. A Person of the Mountains Should Love the Mountains

Eihei Kōroku (Japanese: 永平広録), also known by its English translation Dōgen’s Extensive Record, is a ten volume collection of works by the Sōtō Zen monk Eihei Dōgen. The bulk of the text, accounting for volumes one through seven, are formal Dharma hall discourses, or jōdō (上堂) as they are known in Sino-Japanese, given from 1236 to 1252. Volume eight consists of “informal meetings” or shōsan (小參) that would have taken place in Dōgen’s quarters with select groups of monks, as well as “Dharma words” or hōgo (法語), which were letters containing practice instructions to specific students. Volume nine includes a collection of 90 traditional kōans with verse commentary by Dōgen, while volume 10 collects his Chinese poetry.[1]

Unlike Dōgen’s other major work the Shōbōgenzō, which was written in vernacular Late Middle Japanese, the text of Eihei Kōroku is written in the Japanese version of Classical Chinese, known as Kanbun. While Dōgen is also better known for the essays that make up the Shōbōgenzō, most of them were completed by 1244. After that date, nearly coinciding with his move from Kyoto to Eihei-ji, he wrote 405 of the 531 Dharma hall discourses that make up Eihei Kōroku, indicating that he may have come to prefer the jōdō format over the jishu style used in the Shōbōgenzō essays. Taigen Dan Leighton, a modern Zen priest and translator of the Eihei Kōroku, believes that the Dharma hall discourses tell us more about Dōgen the individual than the Shōbōgenzō as they reveal his training methodology, humor, and even emotional states.[1]


The Expression of the Water

When we practice, we release the world and ourselves from the grip of our certainty. However it is not exactly that our limited views are wrong, and we should try to ‘lose’ them, or that some are more illuminating that others, or that if all views could be taken together they would finally fully illuminate the practitioner. All views, no matter how many, are all the expression and life of this phenomena right now, which interpenetrates and is interpenetrated by all dharmas, everywhere.

Adapted from Kusen given on 19th May 2020


Sutra tracing in English and Chinese characters

Here are some pictures of the sutra tracing and copying practice (shakyo 写経) that we will be working from in our practice group. These are from the short sutra Boundless Life Ten Line Kannon Sutra.

Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra written by Shogen
Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra written by Shogen
Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra traced by Shogen
延命十句観音経 Boundless Life Ten Phrase Kannon Sutra traced by Shogen

The Body is the Bodhi Tree

The Platform Sutra of the Sixth patriarch tells the story – and it is a story, it didn’t actually happen – of the contest to the succesion of the fifth patriarch, Hongren. He asked his followers to write a poem to demonstrate their understanding. His senior disciple, Shexiu was the only monk who wrote a poem, which was as follows:

The body is the bodhi tree
the mind the bright mirrors stand
always polish attentively
to prevent dust from settling.

This was famously countered by an illiterate labourer staying in the monastery, Huineng, who responded:

Bodhi originally has no tree
the mirror has no stand
the buddha nature is always clear and pure
where is there room for dust?

In this video the meaning of the first line of Shexiu’s poem is explored.

Video teaching adapted from Kusen given on 23rd May 2020

More on the mind verses competition can be found here:

further references on the mind verses competition can be found here:


A Zen Life in Trousers

Zen trousers, photograph by Anne Dick

A practitioner’s perspective, on and off the zafu – One

When I started sitting with the group the  suggestion was to wear something dark and loose to allow for flexibility and minimise distraction.

My first stage of experience with Zen was dominated by a preoccupation with finding the right trousers. Somewhere there was a pair of trousers credible enough to wear to the office and stretchy enough to help me navigate zazen (sitting meditation).

This continued as an undercurrent. Although I had a sense that the sitting I was doing was worthwhile, I gathered aiming to get results was not quite the point so put much of my effort into sourcing the right trousers.

By now I was accumulating a fair number of stretchy black trousers and began to feel optimistic about integrating my work and sitting needs via my wardrobe. Then I cracked it and found a pair which had it all – accommodating but not baggy, pockets, the works.


References: Kusen 280. The expression of the water

Sansui Kyo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to navigationJump to searchIn this book, Dōgen equates mountains and waters with the Buddha’s body and speech

Sansui kyō (Japanese: 山水經), rendered in English as Mountains and Waters Sutra, is a book of the Shōbōgenzō by the 13th century Sōtō Zen monk Eihei Dōgen. It is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful of all of the 95 books of the Shōbōgenzō according to Stanford University professor Carl Bielefeldt. The text was written in the fall of 1240 at Dōgen’s monastery


Enlightenment for Dogen

In his essay Genjōkōan, written in 1233 for a lay practitioner, Dogen makes this instructive statement about the nature of enlightenment:

“To carry the self forward and illuminate myriad things is delusion, that myriad things come forth and illuminate the self is awakening”

In this short video the meaning of this phrase is illuminated by discussing the various meanings of ‘self’.

Adpated from Kusen given on 16th May 2020.

For More on Dogen’s Work Genjo-Koan, see this link below:


The wren

Artwork by Margaret Kerr

The wren
Earns his living

Margaret Kerr