rivers into islands

rivers into islands

Monday, December 29, 2014

Soen Master Ko Bong’s Three Gates

Gate 1The sun shines everywhere. Why does a cloud obscure the sun?

Lance Kinseth, Why Does A Cloud Obscure The Sun, 1997

Gate 2Everyone has a shadow following him. How can you not step on your shadow?

Lance Kinseth, How Can You Not Step On Your Shadow. 1997

Gate 3The whole universe is on fire. Through what kind of samadhi can you escape being burned?

Lance Kinseth, How Do You Save Yourself When The Whole World Is On Fire. 1997

Lance Kinseth, How Do You Save Yourself, 2001

Friday, December 12, 2014


Prairie Moon, 2006

MANY APROACHES TO STILLNESS exist, and for a variety of reasons.  Health (both physical and mental), restoration, contemplation, and enhanced awareness perhaps comprise the predominant directives.  And these approaches vary in their effect on the brain as indicated in scans.

Because of the impossibility of finding a boundary,
Za is a pure, unreasoned way, to activate what we are, in intentional stillness and everyday activity.

Buddhism has “housed” a widespread practice termed dhyana, Chan, Soen, Thien, and Zen, but Zen essence is not exclusive to Buddhism.  It is an inherent dimension of human experience. 

The orientation of Zen Za Wild Grass is an intention to enter the most basic moment: Suddenly awakening, what did Siddartha see?

Strip away the ritual, sit, at rest.

ZA: sitting, at rest: a method of opening/access rather than a belief:
Concretely: finding comfort and stimulus reduction—knees down (so sitting on something), hands folded, back straight, ears between shoulders, body wrapped in blankets/cloth, perhaps wall-facing, reduced light.



FRESH, Fresh, fresh:
The flow of body and mind

Sitting for just a little time, thought and sensation appear and disappear.

There is this insightful Hinayana sense of (a) sensations and thoughts as well as objects and processes as impermanent and (b) attachment to these experiences causing suffering.  

There can be a problem at this point as meditation is very likely to be viewed as psychological process of “letting go” or “sweeping/cleaning one’s mind” to produce a more tranquil and resilient self.

Sitting longer, meditation offers samadhi, a state that is empty of concepts—luminous, not even present moment.


 Body and mind drop away

Experiencing impermanence is not the real step in Zen.  The big change occurs when impermanence is realized to include body and self as a conception.

There is an insightful Mahayana sense of “nothing outside” that challenges self, and accordingly, makes clinging to self—which is impermanent—suffering.  If all is impermanent and our body goes and there is no individual soul to realize, then what are we?

The essence of Zen is actualizing no-self.

Zen Za is Samadhi and satori. Satori/awakening, needs to be perceived directly: what are we?  What is our authentic nature?  The actualization experience is satori that can occur outside seated meditation.
No longer psychological, awakening does not provoke the appearance of an enlightened being.  There is no “becoming enlightened.” This is not possible if we actualize what we are.  Inherent enlightenment awakens. That which awakens is everything: many/One as equal, so that a million are also 0.

A thunderclap under the clear blue sky
All beings open their eyes;
Everything under heaven bows together;
Mount Sumeru leaps up and dances.
Wuman Hui-K’ai
[enlightenment poem, Robert Aitken translation]

Still, Dogen Ekaku admonishes:
No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.


Beyond body and mind and oneness

And then, embodying the many/one, actualization, not response as if separate, unable to find boundaries . . .

Tell Me What This Hand Is

There are moons in this hand. 
There is blossoming in this hand. 
This room is in this hand.

This hand is cloud-filled.  It is rainfall.
There is a sparrow flying in this hand.
There is a photograph and a broom in this hand. 
There is no–hand, no-moon, no-sparrow, no-rain…

Sunday, October 26, 2014


.    Akira Kasamatsu M.D. andTomio Hirai M.D.
Article first published online: 17 MAR 2008
DOI: 10.1111/j.1440-1819.1966.tb02646.x

Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences
Volume 20, Issue 4, pages 315–336, December 1966

It’s So Simple / It’s So Beautiful

It’s not za, not oryoki [with “just enough” special food or special bowl or fast speed of eating], not special clothes or okesa [robe] or rakusu, not a committed vow-entrance (jukai), not a name, not a way to enter and to exit zendo, not chants, not prostrations, not sutras—not hidden in process.

In Korea, 1989, at exquisite Bapchusa Temple in Sang-gi National Park, the big outdoor-standing Maitreya Buddha and shrines with seated forms covered in open-faced temples where offerings were made by lay people obscure what Siddhartha saw.

It’s so simple.

You may be looking out the window, and the glass disappears and the bamboo you were looking at is you.  That’s the physical sensation you have.
Your realization comes when you see the objective world and realize that it is part of you:  the birds singing, the trees, the mountains, the wind, the sky.  Its all part of you.  This is one realization of truth: You as subject realizes that the object is no other than you.  It’s so beautiful.

The body is the physical self, and when the physical self dies, we cannot see, we cannot hear, our feet can’t run, our hands can’t grasp.  But original mind is still here, and again original mind is the one that ahs been seeing, hearing, laughing, or crying all along.  I know that you still don’t believe me when I say this—no matter what the Dharma says, you find it difficult to believe—but why do you think this?
            ….we have approached with our dualistic, conditioned thinking. But the Dharma is not just a subject to think about.  It is something to directly experience that actualizes the natural radiance of our original mind.
Jakusho Kwong, No Beginning, No End

So simple, yet beyond conceptual: Experiences of “oneness” and conceptual freedom/fluid concepts are still very far away, and still the same old dilemmas and koans that read like puzzles rather than clear answers.  To say that it is simple is really in the sense that E=mc2 or the structure of DNA is simple.

So again and again, way back past the sutras and centuries of discovery, back to the deep source of the human being Siddartha, see what Siddhartha saw—different appearance for you, but the same enduring thing that changes everything.

What appears?

Words Cannot Say It

Is it “One Thing,” “All,” “Not Two,” “Limitless”?

Language remains conceptual/conditional, conventional so that it cannot describe that which cannot be labeled.

So, why bother with language if words cannot say it?

Still, if intentionally “turned,” language can point toward that which cannot be labeled:

·     Language can negate, saying not or without or no [i.e., not this,  no end, endless].

·     Language can challenge dualisms/polarities, saying “All things are it,” “This exists because that exists,” “It is inside and outside,” or, for example, that “It stands still and outruns all that are running.”

·     But perhaps in its clearest teaching form, language can skillfully link words that seem disparate: “the limitless is everyday” or “whole body mind seeing” [Dogen] or mix metaphors such as “see sound.”
[Negate, challenge dualisms, link terms: Adapted from lecture by Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, Philosophy and
Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College, 10/9/2014, Drake University]

Why bother to point toward that which cannot be labeled? 

That which cannot be labeled is not esoteric, not distant.  Suffering develops from the domination of polarity and dualism because it is not the real nature of the world.  It does not actualize who we are.

“Who we are” is inherent in the phenomena/the objective world, the everyday world/the relative world: the clouds and sky, the flower, the dewfall and rain, the snow and frost.  Mountains and oceans and clouds and flowers literally bring us into being, and so they are walking in each of our steps, they are dimensions of self.  We are actualized by the “ineffable” that is expressing the myriad things.

So, in any age, looking at a tree or a leaf or a river or a star, a “turning word” can point something that we can see but not say that is the real working essence of the self/world.
“Elephant” and “house” and “mountain”—“ same” or “different,” “One” or “Two” or “Not Two or “zero”?

Then, seeing elephant or house or mountain, what appears?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Not Leaving Your Life

Not leaving your life,
Leaving your “self”: contextual, conceptual, provisional

Right here, unhidden,
 your true life.

The body of reality is independent, without location,
Whatever strikes the eye is none other than true awakening.
            Pao-chih (Xiujing)

            ineffable, noumenon/phenomenon=equal

            The body of reality is rarely met,
            and yet, only concealed by dreamlike conceptual discriminations.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Even Siddhartha Could Never Explain It

…all things have mutual identity
…all have interdependent origination.

Mountain, river, grass blade spider web, bridge:
not simply related, not simply part of the same thing,
not similar.  Rather, they are identical to each other in every respect.

The Buddha could never explain it.


It’s already your life.  The problem is that it is obscured, buried under layers of conditioning, under habitual ways of using our minds.

Since it cannot be explained,
You have to see it to actualize it.

So, What do you see?

[Italicized material from John Daido Loori, The Zen Of Creativity, bold mine]

Monday, September 22, 2014

No-Present Moment

The Meaning Of Bodhidharma’s Coming From The West:  Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen/Joshu/Jojo’s  the oak in the garden or wash your bowl, or Tung-shan/Tozan’s three pounds of flax, or a contemporary perspective such as “Wherever you are at is here.”

Still, when you come to the oak or wash the bowl, mindfulness of what?  When you are here, where are you?  And who are you, and what are the oak and the bowl and the flax?  And what do you do?

Not facile, Bodhidharma’s coming opened the presence of buddah in the oak and the bowl and the flax, what is that?  Where are you?

Past/present/future are here (Dogen’s “Time-Being” and Huai-hai’s admoniton to no longer need to distinguish the idea of the present—not attached to the moment, not making time, not contriving apartness). 

And then, searching for substance, oak and bowl and flax (1+1+1) = 0.  Not a single anchor can be discerned.  This realization is relatively unhidden and only concealed by discrimination.

Saturday, September 6, 2014


The “chuu-chuu” of the sparrow rang out the song of the Unborn.

…even the utterings of sparrows profoundly expresses the Truth.
Sosan Taesa, Handbook For Zen Students

He hops calmly, from branch to empty branch
In an absolutely spaceless world
from “Sparrow In Winter,”

The sparrow stirs,
The universe moves slightly.
from “The Position Of The Sparrow,”

Snow in withered field, nothing to touch.
Sparrow’s head clear as sky.
from “Sparrow In Withered Field,”
Shinkichi Takahashi, Triumph Of The Sparrow [trans. Lucian Stryk]

Sparrow, breath, heart pulse, rain sound and rain itself, a motor’s hum and the hiss of tires, a shift in skin temperature, a thought arising: BELL, Bell, bell.

Oceanic, symphonic, luminous

All--composing and interplaying

Thursday, September 4, 2014

No Rule

Gotama Buddha proclaimed the Law for fifty years, and when his disciple Kasyapa asked him for the key to his teaching, the Buddha said, “From beginning to end I have not proclaimed a single word,” and held up a flower.
Ikkyu Sojun, Gaikotsu (Skeletons)

We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.
Marcel Proust

No physical, mental or verbal terms: no sutras, no chants, no prostrations, no special clothes or foods, no rules, no Buddhism—all empty.  So empty, then flower.  Mahakasyapa smiles.

Flower smiles.
What does Mahakasyapa see?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

All-Inclusive Way

Deeply thinking of it,
I and other people,
There is no difference
As there is no mind
Beyond the Mind.
Ikkyu Sojun

And so,

Free yourself from forms and return to the original ground of being.  From this ground, life issues forth, but let go of this too.

Break open
A cherry tree
And there are no flowers.
But the spring breeze
Brings forth myriad blossoms!

….Our Law is the Flower of the One Vehicle…  It is the original ground of our being—all is there.  All things are without beginning and thus all-inclusive.  The eight senses, the four seasons, the four great elements (earth, water, fire, wind), all originate in emptiness, but few realize it.  Wind is breath, fire is animation, water is blood; when the body is burned it becomes earth.  Yet these elements, too, are without beginning, and do not abide.
Ikkyu Sojun, from Gaikotsu [Skeletons]

We can conceptualize this way that our body—“the original body”—actualizes “the Original Place” that is “all,” but then, as Ikkyu admonishes, “Do not search / For what cannot be found.”   If the “all” cannot be found, then what to do? 

When the “original body” actualizes the “Original Place,” Ikkyu admonishes, “…we need not fear / Losing the Way.”

Without a bridge
Clouds climb effortlessly
To heaven…

Many paths lead from
The foot of the mountain
But at the peak
We all gaze at the
Single bright moon.

Ikkyu Sojun, from Giakotsu

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wild Grass Za

Arrow Does Not Strike

Every day arrows fly and appear to stick to events:  what occurred yesterday—hit!, what to eat—hit!, what time is it—hit!, what to wear—hit!, …

Sitting in za, arrow flies forward, nothing to strike,

Breath, a thought and then another, a body sensation, but nothing solid to strike, and nothing to do.

Anytime and all the time, it is like this; nothing solid for arrow to hit.

Especially in za, there is this landscape where this reality can be actualized and then perhaps carried forward to flower into the everyday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

One Thing

The Sixth Patriarch once told the assembly, “ I have one thing.  It has no name or written symbol.  Nonetheless, do any of you understand or not?”
Zen Master Shen-hui immediately stepped forward and said, “It is the original source of all Buddhas; it is my own Buddha nature.”  This is the reason Shen-hui was not the Patriarch true heir.
When Zen master Huai-jang came from Mt. Sung, the Sixth patriarch asked him, “What thing has come here?”  Huai-jang did not know what to do.  It was only eight years later that he had the confidence to say, “If you say it is a thing [lit. one thing], then you have already missed the point.”  This is the reason Huai-jang was the Sixth Patriarch’s true heir.
Sosan Taesa, from his Handbook For Zen Students
What is this “one thing”?

What did Siddhartha see that radically opened this “one thing”?

Not something egotistic, esoteric, mystical—
Something simple, unhidden;

Then no birth, no death;

How can this not be something esoteric, mystical?

Again, what is seen that radically opens this “one thing”?

Friday, August 15, 2014


“What is the teaching of the Buddha?”
“It is in front of your eyes.”
“If it’s in front of me, why can’t I see it?”
“Because you have you.  So you cannot see.”
            Mang Gong, in Thousand Peaks 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Certain Light

18x24, ink study, 2014

The mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees, and forests, are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.
It is just because you miss it right where you are, or avoid it even as you face it, that you are unable to attain actual use of it.

Yuansou, from “Expedients and Reality,” in Thomas Cleary, Zen Essence

Not Attached Enough

Siddhartha described attachment to phenomena as the cause of suffering.  And so, the task would appear to be one of letting go of attachments, ridding oneself of self-imposed obstacles. 

Siddhartha’s most revolutionary insight is that we are not attached enough. 
Our deepest suffering come from a sense of being an individual self and missing our true nature.

The task is not one of soulwork or polishing clean an interior soul or self, but rather waking to the already fully expressed ensoulment that is our true self.

Beings, mountains, rivers, weathers are empty of themselves—impermanent—and so there is no final solidity upon which dust may alight. And yet, events are empty of themselves because they are open and full of everything, and this essence does not change. 

While it can appear to be an esoteric or spiritist view, Siddhartha’s insight was particularly revolutionary because it was a view of the nature of reality in this moment in this place and not a transcendental. 

Sky / Mind

High feathery cirrus clouds pass by.
Majestic cumulus mountains pass by.
A low flat ashen veil passes by.
A blue anvil thunder cloud storms by.
Medium animal-shaped clouds pass by.
But "The vast sky is not hindered by the floating clouds" [Sekito Kisen]

A cornucopia of memories pass by.
Beautiful ideas pass by.
A blue storm of anger passes by.
Joy passes by.
An ashen veil of sadness passes by.
But vast mind "is not hindered."

What Is This

Im oo ko.
What is this?

In the Genjokoan, Dogen Zenji wrote:
Once firewood turns to ash, the ash cannot turn back to being
firewood.  Still, one should not take the view that is ashes afterward
and firewood before. One should realize that although firewood is a the
dharma-stage of firewood, and that this is possessed of before and after,
the firewood is beyond before and after.

…the dharma-stage of firewood…is the whole universe.  Only in the realm of the Whole is there before and after.

Thus each moment, though absolutely distinct, is simultaneously the entire universe.
Dainan Katagiri, You Have to Say Something.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Whole World A Single Flower

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place
          the whole of the flower, the whole of
     the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth
     of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.
                  Zenkei Shibayama, A Flower Does Not Talk

Fundamental Point

To study the buddha way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be actualized by the myriad things.
To be actualized by the myriad things, your body and mind
            as well as the body and mind of others drop away.
No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

When you first seek dharma, you imagine you are far from its environs.
But dharma is already correctly transmuted; you are immediately your original self.
            Dogen, “Genjo Koan,” Sections 4 & 5, [translation from Moon In A Dewdrop]

Reaching this point, when you observe closely, even if you use a thousand eyes you do not find a particle of anything that can be called skin, flesh, bones or marrow; there is nothing to divide into mind, cognition, and consciousness…. Therefore it has been said, “When you see, there is not a single thing.”
            Keizan, Transmission Of Light

Star And Flower

THAT WHICH WAS SEEN in Siddhartha's morning star and in Mahakasyapa's observation of Siddhartha raising a flower...

not Shen Hsui's body as the Bodhi tree nor mind as a mirror to be endlessly polished so that dust cannot blemish it...

star, flower,

chirp, bark, a bell’s clang, a cough, the shush of breeze, a word—all song and bell  



Paul Gauguin's From where do I originate?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Nine Adamantine Words

No mind, no abode, and here works the mind!

(Translation from Diamond Prajna Sutra by Zenkei Shibayama)

More than enough


Another confirmation in just one word:


The essence of the world is expressed as each event.
It neither comes nor goes,
Is not created, is indestructible,
And never deteriorates.