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Kusen

288. This Dharma Position

Towards the end of his life Uchiyama Roshi, the teacher of Shohaku Okumura wrote this poem, ‘Samadhi, Treasury of the Radiant Light’:

Though poor, never poor

Though sick,never sick

Though ageing, never ageing

Though dying, never dying

Reality prior to division

Here lies unlimited depth

Using more traditional language, Uchiyama Roshi is talking about our dharma position. That is, seen one way, we are particular limited beings, in our karmic position, with our gender, age, health and so on. In another way, because we are part of this dynamic wholeness, each being is also that whole. It’s like touching a person. You can touch that person on the hand, and simultaneously you are touching their hand, but you are also touching the whole person.

That experience of wholeness cannot be achieved by taking the familiar dualities of mind and body, self and world and by effort fusing them into one. We can only find ourselves there, as it were, by accident. The paradigm way of finding ourselves there by accident is through Zazen, and the gradual erosion of these apparent dualities in our actual experience when we sit. When we sit in a balanced posture, our idea of ourself, of this lump of mind flesh , is intermittently eclipsed by the felt experience of spaciousness. 

The spaciousness inside us, around us and outside us. That space is continuous. In this way we can gradually get to a position which is underneath these dualities, but we can’t -sadly – get there with the head.

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Kusen

279. Not Personal, Relational

What’s distinctive about Zen is that the truth isn’t personal, it’s relational. Although there is a teacher and a student, the true teacher is the clear, open and whole hearted engagement of both of them, together.

My first teacher Nancy Amphoux was dying of cancer in 1992 when she came to Glasgow for the last time to teach.

At that time, the cancer had spread into her bones, particularly her sternum, which was crumbling away. I asked her if she intended to take pain relief and she said that she wouldn’t, because it was more important to be able to teach clearly than to suffer temporary pain.

It took me a long time to realize that the person she was teaching clearly was me.

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Kusen

271. Zazen as Enactment Ritual

What’s the point of Ritual?

Well, to start to answer that,  you have to ask yourself: what is the point of spiritual practice? 

In these strange Coronavirus times my inbox is full, as I’m sure yours is too, with lots of invitations to use this period of quarantine to develop myself, to be all I can be, to break free of all my limitations.

This pitiable and feeble language is indicative of a spiritual materialism which is absolutely  endemic. So endemic we don’t even notice it. So, if the same question is posed to these people – what is the point of the spiritual practice? – their answer surely is obvious: the development to perfection of the individual. 

That is a complete reversal of how the spiritual life has been pursued and seen through almost all of our common history.

The purpose of spiritual life is not to exalt and glorify the individual but to exalt and glorify and flood with gratitude the whole of creation.

If we embark on practice with the idea that through practice we will become a great person we are completely deluded, because we will never be a great person. We don’t need to be a great person because we are already part of the great person of all being. The purpose of our practice is to drop off our individual concerns and vanities so that, at least fleetingly, we can live as part of this great person.

We can see ritual from this perspective.

Ritual takes us out of a thinking position and into a feeling position, takes us out of an individual perspective and moves us into a collective one, where the perspectives of each of us form the whole, like shards of glass making a mirror. 

Primarily, what we are doing when we wholeheartedly enact ritual is enacting this shared, connective and dynamic reality, which is our true life.

I think that this is what the contemporary writer and teacher Taigen Dan Leighton means when he talks of Zazen as ‘enactment ritual’- it’s not a means to something. It’s the expression of everything.

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Kusen

252. All the dust illuminated

The last time my first teacher Nancy Amphoux came to Scotland we sat in a dusty room in Glasgow Street.

In the afternoon while we were sitting, bright sunlight shone into the room, illuminating all the dust hanging in the air.

The light was still, the dust was still, neither obstructed the other.

The smoke from the incense moved amongst both, the dancing of a life.

In Buddhism we keep coming across, in a slightly disguised way, the idea of a person.

Who or what is walking the Way if not a person?

Who or what is balanced, if not a person?

And indeed we can see walking as a kind of dynamic balance. The integration of apparent dualities within a living whole, ‘opposites’ reconfigured as two aspects of something which is dynamic and alive.

We need to find this true person. And our mind cannot find it. All it can ever find is a person who has been cut in half, and no matter how hard we try we cannot restore that person to life.

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Kusen

248. The purpose of practice

I asked my first teacher if the purpose of practice is to become enlightened.

She said, ‘No. The purpose is to become a human being.’

But what does this mean?

It’s like a person who is a counterfeit painter, painting pictures of the world in the style of great artists. These artists are variously called Compassion, Wisdom, Presence, Enlightenment.

But the person knows that no matter how convincing the paintings appear to be, they are fake and will always be at risk of being seen as fake.

Yet what the person doesn’t understand is that these ‘great artists’ are demons. Falseness is the whole point.

This pictured world is flooding out of us at each moment; vivid, perfect. If we wish to be like human beings, we only need to be like small children: fearless, whole.

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Kusen

Issho Fujita on posture

Please read a brilliant essay by Issho Fujita on posture from Dharma Eye.

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Kusen

240. One piece zen

Issho Fujita described our practice as “One Piece Zen”. That is, rather than the individual striving of this person, our practice expresses the dynamic unity of all beings, all being, all space.

The trap is to picture a cosmos, with us within it. To escape that trap, we need to feel this dynamic unity as something real, not imagined. That’s why the posture is so important.

In our posture, we have the actual experience of dynamic wholeness and aliveness with our liberated spines. We have the actual experience of vast dynamic space with our liberated breath.

So, our posture, from the perspective of the self, is the symbolic enactment of the two facets of this dynamic unity, and the unity itself. And, when body and mind is dropped off, this enactment is no longer just symbolic, but real.

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Kusen

229. Katagiri

What we need to understand about impermanence is that both time and being are momentary, and they aren’t separate.

That’s why Katagiri is able to say that each moment is the universe. Because it is the momentary wave of everything.

It’s hard to see this in our normal life. But we can see it in zazen. The wave of each moment, crashing against the cliff of practice.

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Kusen

218. Is Master Tozan here?

In Memoriam

1. During a Mondo, someone asked my late first teacher Nancy about Master Tozan.

Nancy said to this person ‘Is Tozan here, or not?’

The person said – ‘He’s not here’. Nancy struck him, playfully.

Then she asked again: ‘Is Master Tozen here?’

The person said ‘He is here’. Nancy struck him again.

Alive or dead? Nancy? Tozan? You and me?

2. The ignorant person thinks that this person, whom they call their self, is their possession; and where this person appears in the heart or eye or mind of someone else, then this simply is echo, or shadow

But this person is not a half finished fortification.

This person is multitudes. Being is numberless.

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Kusen

201. Samsara

The Tibetan word for Samsara (‘khor ba’) literally means circling. Just going round in circles; blown here and there by karma.

Nirvana is not trying to do something to fix our karma, nor trying to perfect the self, nor making ourselves more wise or more compassionate. All of this is just samsara.

It is simply to stop fabricating. To just allow this experience to flood through us.

My first teacher Nancy said that zazen is like a huge underground river in our lives. We can’t see it, but it’s there. And a river, obviously, is a path, a way. Likewise, the ground above it. Likewise, the space above it.