rivers into islands

rivers into islands

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Lance Kinseth, Radiance, 48”x60

THAT WHICH ZEN POPULARLY references is a sense of calmness to the point of sustained serenity in Zen mastery, a need for little from the everyday world, aesthetic simplicity, naturalness, and, increasingly, improved health from stress reduction and physiological changes brought about by a central activity of meditation.  These become possibilities that aspirants seek to develop into enduring attributes rather than rare occurrences.

These popular referents do not accurately describe Zen essence and can even be distractions.

Again, popularly, Zen begins with the mythical account of Siddhartha Gautama suddenly, and quite astonishingly, experiencing the morning star in a remarkable way.  All of the above experiences could be outcomes of such an experience, but they are, in and of themselves, superficial and not the primary point.

“Zen” references the experience of a primary point.  And this experience began before Siddhartha’s experience.  The Upanishads contains descriptions of a state of being to which Siddhartha was exposed in his dialogue and experimentation with “Upanishadists” who comprised a portion of wandering individuals rebelling against the sacrificial traditions of his time.  This state of being—awakening—appears in the oral and written records of a variety of cultures, some of which pre-date even the Upanishads.

Siddhartha’s contribution was a more authentic experience of a natural dimension of human experience—an awakened knowledge rather than an esoteric religious and/or psychic experience.  And it was far more than just a richer psychological dimension.  Paradoxically, Siddhartha’s contribution became housed in a religious tradition wherein he is envisioned as its founder.  Still, Siddhartha’s original experience became luminous at various rare points rather than obscured as a religious motif as it passed through various societies.  This original experience is the heart of Zen.

The Avatamsaka and Lotus Sutras are but my walking, staying, sitting, and lying.
Kyong Ho, from “Song of Enlightenment”

So, no dogma, no tradition, cutting through, what does Siddhartha suddenly experience, now, in this moment?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gentle Zen

Indra's Net, fractal image

BASSUI WAS THE MOST encouraging of Zen teachers.  Instead of browbeating his students into realization, he coaxed and led them.

While you may apply great effort, the fact is…

The river of Zen is quiet, even in the waves; the water of stability is clear, even in the waves.

You have always had it, and you have it now—there is no need to cultivate the Way and sit in meditation.

…to contemplate emptiness and enter concentration, is all in the province of contrivance.

The Way does not require cultivation—just don’t pollute it.

Everything offers the Way. 

Zen is buoyant and unbridled, like clouds making rain, like the moon in a stream, like an orchid in a recondite spot, like spring in living beings.

Why such force?  Why such cajoling and interpretation?  Why so many devices?  Rather than friction—perhaps some intent to be “frictionless” [Hongzhi].

Shy away from those who teach you to be like themselves, as they were taught to be like someone else.

Pushing obscures, like trying to push a river.  Zen teaching is as muted as a field of grass or river or hillock neither giving nor taking.  A field of grass or river or hillock is a good Zen teacher. A field of grass or a river or a hillock does not try to make you into anything.  When there is another who does not see you or hear you or simply a field of grass or a river or a hillock or a sparrow, calm and tranquil—after a time or instantly, like a field of grass or a river or a hillock or a sparrow, you finally may not see “you” or hear “you.”
            You have always had it… 

Sparrow is cloud floating West is path meandering East is upward-reaching branch.
Trying to push, such a terrain cannot appear.

            ...shedding your skin…

No mirror, no place for dust to alight,
Then, the flow of calmness, tranquility, serenity

Why such force?