writing the sutra of our life: a chinese detective, zhuang zi & hard nails

108zb-black-gold-post_2 Lokesh, the Tibetan monk, embodiment of Avalokiteshvara and conscience in Eliot Pattison’s Tibetan detective series, says to anti-hero Shan: “Jamyang told us his story…It is but for us to understand it. He left us the sutra of his life. We simply need to learn how to read it.” One of the most compelling detective series with a strongly Buddhist and pro-Tibetan message, Mandarin Gate(1) is the latest in the life of Chinese detective Shan and his eternal battle to fight wrongs with right. Jamyang is one of the characters in the novel but with Lokesh’s pronouncement, he can be any one of us.

How do we write the sutra of our life? How do we read and understand such a sutra? Sutras are complicated things, filled with mysterious allusions and verbal illusions. Recently, I had the absolute joy of being part of an art show with Kaz Tanahashi. Over a quiet lunch together (a snow squall had kept others stranded in their homes), I asked how best to study Dogen whom I said, “Is complicated though seemingly simple.” He chuckled and nodded: Dogen is in opposites. He writes “self” but he means “Self.” If you don’t know opposites, you cannot know Dogen.

I wish I could say that helped. It did in a reassuring way that one suddenly realizes the mountain is confirming it is a rather large and ofttimes impenetrable mountain which requires a good guide or key to its mystery. And it leaves me wondering what are the keys to these impenetrable lines of mysterious symbols and signs I’ve carved into my life. My spiritual life – though I hesitate to call it that any more, being saturated by the demands of the mundane world. Then again, that is what it is in its truest form be it Zen or any other form. Chogyam Trungpa wrote in The Myth of Freedom(2) that the intent of the discipline of practice (sit, cook, eat) is to go deeper into an intimate relationship with boredom. That is, we drop past the labels, preferences, gold stars (he calls them ‘credentials’) and addictions to form. We enter the naked lines of our scriptured life. We become entirely what we are in each moment, mountain, river, cloud, sky.

Our problem is that we tire of this ‘just is’ and want some reassurance we are on the right track. The unspoken demand is that this will be value-added to our life, our personality, our internal sense of worth. It will be a ‘credential,’ what Linchi called a ‘rank.’ I understand that it is hard to keep plugging along without some reinforcement. Truthfully the dishes wouldn’t get done without that promise of dessert after. And this is the key to understanding the sutra of our life: we make it all contingent on something happening for us (not in us).

After all, it says that in the suttas, sutras, and every teaching. Hearing the stone on the bamboo brought enlightenment! Seeing the ember, the raised finger…

Gutei-cropWait. What was that story? Gutei’s finger in the Mumokan! Gutei answered questions by raising his finger. His attendant started copying him and Gutei, seeing his mischief cut off the attendant’s finger. As the boy ran away crying, Gutei called to him and raised his finger. The attendant attained enlightenment! Boom! See, we take the raised finger as propellant to full realization and run around flipping it out. Instead of appreciating the simplicity of the one-fingered teaching, we elevate it and ritualize it.

There are all kinds of interpretations of this koan. The boy’s understanding was superficial. Teachings have nothing to do with fingers (sometimes they might with some fingers but we’re not going there today). The usual commentaries focus on owning our wisdom and not mimicking our teachers. The subtext to that is rarely mentioned; once upon a time our own teachers copied their teachers as did Gutei of his teacher Tenryu, finger and all. And there is the impenetrable “copy, yes; copy, no.”

In fact, Thich Nhat Hanh (may he be held in love and peace as he traverses the realms at this moment) makes a strong point that holding onto any teaching (as in holding onto to the raft that gets us across to the other shore) is to violate the percepts. He is quoted in the preface of Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree(3) that “if you have an ideology and stick to it, thinking it is the absolute truth, you can kill millions.”

While this subtext of rigidly copying our teachers calls for compassion for our limitations, the ultimate intent of practice is in learning to write our own sutra, penetrating our own mind. To fully study our self as Dogen teaches, we need to uncover our tendencies to get caught in various levels of mind. In the Book of Chuang Tzu (Zhuang Zi)(4), Confucius (the mouthpiece for Zhuang Zi) is guiding his pupil Yen Hui who is taking on an immense task of transforming a nearby king’s evil ways. Yen Hui had come up with various strategies all of which involved force and intimidation, most based on literal interpretations of Confucius and in his own pride. The master tries in many ways to exhort Yen Hui to see that forcing others to be benevolent is not the best approach. Finally, Confucius tells Yen Hui he has to fast. Yen Hui is baffled because he does fast and Confucius tells him it is the fasting of the heart/mind that is necessary.

Your mind must become one, do not try to understand with your ears but with your heart. Indeed, not with your heart but with your soul. Listening blocks the ears, set your heart on what is right but let your soul be open to receive in true sincerity, The Way is found in emptiness. Emptiness is fasting of the heart.

UBC professor Edward Slingerland states it clearly in a lecture on Chinese philosophy (i.e., with a key to those mysterious lines; see video). Zhuang Zi says:

Hearing stops the ears (it’s at the level of doctrine).
Mind stops with signs (it’s a process of matching up names to reality).
Qi is empty/tenuous and opens to things themselves.

We get caught at the ears (think sound of tree falling); we chant and are caught in mind, mapping to reality. It is only when we cut through these iron-hard nails that hold together our doctrines and assumptions that the sutra of our life can be understood and then written in clear, unimpeded language. That means willing to be vulnerable in our ignorance, exhausted by our anger, and bruised hopelessly by our attachments. With no desire or hope of reward. So write your sutra without the traps of facts and figures, without the compulsion to line up philosophies with actions. Rather write with a boundless transparency and simplicity of what you eternally are becoming.


(1) Pattison, Eliot, Mandarin Gate (2012). Minotaur Books, NY
(2) Trungpa, Choygam, The Myth of Freedom (2002). Shambhala Publications, Boston MA
(3) Buddhasa Bhikkhu, Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree (1985/2013). Wisdom Publications, Boston MA
(4)Chuang Tzu, The Book of Chuang Tzu (translated by Martin Palmer with Elizabeth Breuilly) (1996). Penguin Books, London UK

robai-shin: entering the heart of ancestral recipes

robai-shin“You understand all of Buddhism, but you cannot go beyond your abilities and your intelligence. You must have robai-shin, the mind of great compassion. This compassion must help all of humanity. You should not think only of yourself.”

I can’t find the source of the quote attributed to Dogen, who apparently said it to the Third Patriarch of Eihei-ji. Upon the arrival of our Gr’Kid, a dharma sister sent me the quote welcoming me into the the community of Grandmothers. Robai-shin, wrote another. It will bring you deeper into the heart of compassion.

Dogen wrote in Instructions for the Tenzo that “in performing our duties along with other officers and staff, (we) should maintain joyful mind, kind mind, and great mind.” Joyful mind arises from our gratitude for being born into this human form. More so that “we have the good fortune of cooking meals to be offered to the three treasures.” Now that I immediately understand because cooking is the heart of my family, its compassionate ground, and the source of all healing. The curries, dahls, rice. The desserts of glutinous black rice and agar jellies. The pungent fermented tea leaves and pickled ginger digestives. Dogen’s exhortations in the earlier sections of Instructions read like a day in my own grandmother’s hotel on Sule Pagoda Road in Rangoon. Well, maybe it was a bit more frenetic than Eihei-ji because my uncle and aunt who helped there were just as likely to swing cleavers at each other as at the chickens.


My mother, despite not knowing how to cook (why would you need to when your own mother owned a hotel and simply delivered the food each day!), developed her own skills ultimately crafting a pilau rice that earned the title “Gamma’s Rice.” And, the deterioration in its edibility was what first raised the alarms of her encroaching dementia. I’m not sure what dishes will identify my place on this earth but that is the nature of being parent – and now grandparent. I delight in an eclectic range of textures and flavours, only coming into the ancestral recipes later in life. Interesting how I can now say “later” although it’s never been an avoided or hidden idea that aging grants me many somewhat unearned privileges. My own curries are finally edible and I turn more towards the Indian styles of cooking and taste. And yet, my signature dishes tend to be Burmese, likely more for their rarity than their actual craft.

Robai-shin. Grandmother-mind. Kind mind. The second of Dogen’s doors to community is that quality of kindness. Not just kindness but a stance of protectiveness of the present for the future. Kaz Tanahashi¹ translates it as a parental mind. We develop this kindness for our children to the extent that we “do not care whether (we ourselves) are poor or rich; (our) only concern is that (our) children will grow up.” In principle, it is our only concern: that they survive. Of course, we harbour hopes that they will live carefully, in good health, making wise choices, respecting others as themselves, and knowing that the bloodline extends through them but doesn’t end there. The tricky part is that our kindness is offered against this backdrop of hope but cannot be directed by it. Robai-shin is an offering “without expecting any result or gain.” It simply unfolds as that hand reaching for the pillow in the night, the bow that evidences transmission beyond words, the sound of the single hand at death. It holds, it honours, it transcends form as it is called to do so.

Both my grandmothers were iconoclasts in their own right. My paternal grandmother was a rather severe character but with a sharp sense of humour particularly about her love of oversized cheroots. Devoutly Buddhist, she was the quintessential pragmatist. She never cooked, cleaned, or otherwise engaged in tasks that someone else in her life was already doing. I saw her weekly but never among family. She arrived each Sunday to take me to the Botataung Pagoda (while my parents entertained their friends at poker and various gambling games). I don’t recall any words of wisdom or special gifts. That is, until one day I overheard an intense argument she was having with my father over the damage he was doing karmically by exposing me to his high society lifestyle. She was formidable and, as I understand from the family myths, would not have been above picking up a wooden shoe to whack sense into him at any age – his or hers. I never knew her name until I was an adult but it didn’t dim the connection.

dahl-riceMy maternal grandmother ran the Piccadilly Hotel in Rangoon. Now she, along with her only surviving son, was all about food. I lived in the hotel with my  five male cousins and we all became little cook’s helpers. Unfortunately, only I escaped the epigenetic change that enabled the boys to become great cooks. As “Ma,” she made sure we roamed the hallways as a little gang, thereby protecting us from certain characters who lodged there in transit to Bangkok or Delhi. She set the rules for riding out into the Night Bazaar on my uncle’s scooter, clutched to his flapping, open shirt. Being the only girl (at the time), I was forbidden to go though my uncle found ways around that senseless rule. Apparently robai-shin meant something different to him. As “Belle,” she swept through the evening society parties in shimmering gowns with a hairstyle of braids wound upright over her head like a dark halo and an eternal eye cast on negotiating the family’s best future.

robai-shin2Out of joyful mind and robai-shin arises great mind. “Like a great mountain or a great ocean,” it is the nondiscriminatory mind. It is the vast, boundless space which is also robai-shin and joyful mind because it contains everything. Instructions for the Tenzo is a simile wrapped around a metaphor at whose heart lies a mirror. It’s a discourse on how to wash rice, pointing to principles for living a life of deep practice, penetrating that deep question of who we truly are.  In the teachings of the three minds, Dogen reveals the components of both community and the Great Matter, leaving it up to us to craft a recipe that honours why we have been held in robai-shin and are called to embody robai-shin.


1. Tanahashi, Kazuaki (Ed.), Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen. North Point Press, NY.

Ryokan – the passage of wind in a vast sky

sky above, great wind (Genju 2013)

Reflection on leaving the household

I came to the mountain
to avoid hearing
the sound of waves.
Lonesome now in another way –
wind in the the pine forest.

Ryokan, from Sky Above, Great Wind: The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan, Kazuaki Tanahashi

Ryokan is likely my favourite in the imposing genre of Zen Master poets. Kaz Tanahashi offers a delightful exploration of his life and, more delectably, his art. This is a companion book to carry with you and dip into as the moment arises.

There is the simple in Ryokan’s words, a feature that likely gave rise, along with his own demeanor, to the sobriquet of “The Zen Fool.” And perhaps that is fitting because to surrender all manner of contact, comfort, and conventionality would require adopting or cultivating a simple-mindedness about what matters. Like the Divine Fool Nasreddin before him, Ryokan challenges me to re-perceive my life through his subtle teachings.

Falling blossoms.
Blossoms in bloom are also 
falling blossoms.

That preferential mind, holding onto one phase of the continuous flow through life and death. I notice this in every shift from health to illness, that desire for the ease of movement, of the quickness of thought. And he too reveals his own clinging:

Dancing the bon dance,
with a hand towel
I hide my age.

Simplicity of body, speech, and mind reflects a deep self-knowing, an awareness of how we fit in this fleeting world. It’s the honoring of that fit which causes me trouble.

It is not that
I avoid mixing
with the world;
but I do better
playing alone.

And then in counterpoint, so human, Ryokan reassures me as he writes,

Were there someone
in the world
who feels as I feel,
we would talk all night
in this grass hut.

 Being in world, connecting, becoming open, vulnerable. And all the time, seeking solitude, re-connecting with what matters.

skyabove, great wind (Genju 2013)

If someone asks
about the mind of this monk,
say it is no more than
a passage of wind
in the vast sky.

{Edit: It is with great spacious humour that I admit having mixed up the script for “sky” and “great.” One continuous mistake! These calligraphies are hopefully corrected in the right-minded direction.}

being a time being: dogen, katagiri & the flight of vultures

timebeing1The sight of five vultures waiting at the end of the driveway can be a good thing. What is the good and what thing they point to is, of course, unknowable in the immediate. And yet. That single view is enough to send me wandering on time travels to worlds of worry, regret and wondering what if.

Vultures waiting are a powerful icon for time lost, frittered away. The body/mind unbinding with nothing left but the shell of a vessel poorly treated and meagerly used. I stepped out of the car quietly not wanting to set them on flight; that would have truly signalled the end. So I watched them as they watched something off in the northeast field, unmoving yet intimately related.

Dogen¹ writes exquisitely of time as inseparable from being, time-being or more succinctly being-which-is-time. Uji. It takes a moment to drop into what that feels like because the cascade of moments seems external, impenetrable and inexorably outside our control. Our perception insists that time moves relentlessly and mercilessly as we are dragged along in its wake. No wonder I quail at the sight of an icon of endings.

Katagari² describes “The Pivot of Nothingness” as this present moment – which doesn’t exist because past is vanishing and future has yet to unfold leaving a void, a turning point, a pivot into the next unfolding. For ease of communication, we tend to position ourselves through language. “Here I am.” But the terminology fractures when we drop into the “here” “I” and “am.” Each is a construction of something from the past and a reaching into the future.

In this “here” is a train station into which pulls all manner of locomotives taking me “there.” The room where this or that happened which lead to that or the other not happening. The city where choices ended and others failed to manifest. The bus, the subway where I choose this direction and not that, where one meeting lead to another but a different route missed the intersection of time and another being.

In this “I” are a hundred thousand variations that appear to be a seamless evolution from a past point and into a hopeful future. The aspiring astronaut, the acolyte of science, the lost and wandering characters who make up this play of fools. Examined closely, the appearance of an unbroken tapestry is so heart-rendingly false. More a wildly designed quilt with each patch having emerged from an unknowable confluence of causes, conditions and other beings-of-time.

As I “am” is not enough. There is always something taunting from the future that was planted by a promise from the past. Always something that is insufficient, undeveloped and wantonly wasting time. This am-ness is a counterpoint to what philosopher Evan Thompson³ calls “selfing.” It is an accreted stuckness that takes a wake up slam of vast proportions to dislodge it from the delusion of permanence.

timebeing2And the vultures took flight.

In this pivot of nothingness which contains all that is necessary and sufficient is what Dogen says is the complete moment. Like the firewood and ash¹, it “fully includes before and after and is independent of before and after.” To paraphrase, we cannot call here the beginning of there, I the end of you, or am the end of was.

When you are right on the pivot of nothingness, free from the pictures created by your consciousness, you see time from a universal perspective. There is no gap where you feel separate from time, because your life is the whole dynamic world of time, and all sentient beings are the content of your life. Katagiri, p.78


¹Tanahashi, Kazuaki (ed), The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo, Vol 1. Shambhala 2010

²Katagari, Dainin (Edited by Andrea Martin), Each moment is the universe: Zen and the way of being time. Shambhala 2008

³Thompson, Evan, Mind in Life: Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2010

the art critic and the enso: book review of kay larson’s biography of john cage

Avant-garde artist-composer-Zen student of D.T. Suzuki, John Cage would have been 100 years old on September 5, 2012.  For almost 8 decades Cage has been the source of much deliberation, consternation, and experiential angst for visual and sound artists.  There are a number of books, some being published almost simultaneously with Kay Larson’s rather ambitious attempt to place John Cage the man in a social matrix that explains Cage the artist.

Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists is staged in three parts, the section titles quoting D.T. Suzuki and riffing on Dogen’s Mountains and Waters Sutra.  Larson’s intention is to show us the flow of Cage’s life as a process of seeing him as mountain, deconstructing that self as he expresses the wisdom of the sages, and finally – though not permanently – takes his place in the history of modern art.  It’s ambitious and far-reaching, pulling together a sociological examination of the culture in which Cage’s talents cooked and the influential role he played in the lives of all who gathered around him.  In doing so, Larson’s own history unavoidably interpenetrates the story she tries to weave.

Larson is an art critic and contributor to the New York Times.  She brings to the shelf a vast knowledge, not only of the matrix in which Cage was embedded but also of the larger cultural shifts that carried art from form to formlessness.  And it is the essence of formlessness, of shunyata, that has her in its thrall.  Larson has also been a Zen practitioner since 1994, a fact that may or may not have been an advantage to her voice in the book.  However, she did begin her practice at Zen Mountain Monastery and that exposure to the art and teachings of the late John Daido Loori Roshi could have polished the lens to see the form/emptiness flow in Cage’s work.  Larson therefore has the difficult task of dancing between observer and participant in the narrative.  Late in the book, Larson quotes art critic Harold Rosenberg’s article “The American Action Painters.”  It stands as the finger pointing to the challenge of her task and a moral tale that in our efforts we are aware that “art (is) not an object… it (is) a process.”

A painting that is an act is inseparable from the biography of the artist.  The painting itself is a “moment” in the unadulterated mixture of his life…  The act-painting is of the same metaphysical substance as the artist’s existence.  The new painting has broken down every distinction between art and life…

[The artist] must exercise in himself a constant No…

As we explored last week, No is Mu in action, that pesky first koan we confront only to have it confront us.  Larson does a valiant job for trying to hold to that essence of “No” as she works through the first section, Mountains are Mountains.  Staying out of the way of the flow, her writing is rich and the relationships dance on the pages.  The characters are seductive in their passion for their work and for each other; thankfully Larson stays away from portraying the sexual liaisons as over-wrought drama.  They are no more or less the dust that gathers on the cultural consciousness that shapes Cage’s early life as an artist.  In fact, she does a tantalizing magic with the interconnections of Cage to the growing avant-garde movement that I felt rather at home with the Dada-ists and the Surrealists, something I never managed in my Art Conservation years.  When Joseph Campbell, the Allans – Watts & Ginsberg – and a variety of myth, mythology, and buddhistic beings showed up, it did begin to feel surreal.  By the end of the section, there were not only mountains being mountains but entire mountain ranges interconnected in the landscape of art in the first half of the 20th century.

Cage opened a book y D.T. Suzuki on Zen around 1950.  Feeling alienated and likely unappreciated in most aspects of his life, Larson sees him as suffering and that suffering being ripe to receive the first words he reads in Suzuki’s book First Series:

Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one’s own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom.

Later Cage attends a lecture given by Suzuki and the book could probably have ended there with the aphorism: And the rest was history.  But it wasn’t, really.  Cage took the teachings of Zen deep into his work and whether or not we can appreciate his “readymade” performance art (see YouTube for many) or comprehend his intentions in deconstructing music into sound sensation, we come to appreciate his message that there is everything going on in the nothing we think is happening.

John Cage, the artist, is a tough subject to write of, let alone review, because his work cannot be apprehended through rational argument.  And as an guard to being seduced into liking a book just because the author has significant street creds, I spent two months listening to Cage’s compositions and researching some secondary sources of his work.  His book on the Ox Herding pictures has always been a favourite but there is much that is beyond my hearing-consciousness in his sound compositions (I hesitate to call it music because Cage himself seems to be reaching beyond the name-form).  Except one.  The composition 4’33” is perhaps the most challenging practice I’ve encountered; it is a challenge to expectations and a command to be in full contact with the world as it is, inside and out.

This deconstructive process of awareness is where Larson’s second section, Mountains are No Longer Mountains, takes us.  But here there be dragons.  It may seem a bit harsh of me to criticize Larson here, having sinned in exactly the same way above, however her voice in this section is louder and somewhat intrusive.  And it is ironically so because Larson tries to show how Cage’s work begins to manifest out of the Zen practice of shunyata, emptiness, or interconnectedness.  The complete incompleteness of the Zen circle or enso becomes the leitmotif of Cage’s pursuit for enlightenment; there are riches to be mined here.  Yet Larson’s forays into Zen teachings dangerously tread the edges of cliché, saved only by the quotes of Cage’s reflections of the influence of Zen on his work.  It would be graciousness to say that this is what happens when art and life are deconstructed into the essence of sensations.  However, one would anticipate that the practices of art criticism (the deep seeing it commands) and Zen would provide a steadiness in the face of the dissolution of convention and form.

Cage, as the Zen student that Larson constructs him to be, seems to have connected with the enso of practice:

[E]veryday life is more interesting than forms of celebration, when we become aware of it.  That when is when our intentions go down to zero.  Then suddenly you notice that the world is magical.

This openness to experience infiltrates all of Cage’s work as he carries forward the spirit of his vision in 4’33”.  It is the work of being simply itself, having its own authority to contain whatever arises.  It moves beyond the need to prove a point, make a mark, or  leave a trace.  As a compositional piece, 4’33” cannot exist without the entire world bearing witness and participating.  Larson does a good job here in bringing out the essence of Zen teachings and their emergence in the mind of John Cage.

The third section, Mountains are Again Mountains, attempts to provide an historical provenance of John Cage.  Larson attempts to place Cage back into a sociological matrix and roll gently into the denoument of his life.  Sadly, it is choppy and filled with more characters than we can handle this late in the book; it simply doesn’t work.  Here too, her voice becomes too present; she shifts from dispassionate observer to a full participant, taking our focus away from Cage’s “post-satori” life.  When he comes down from the mountain, who is he?  And now… and now…  We learn that, in the later decades of the 20th century, Cage loses the reins on the beast he released on the art world.  Yet Cage’s way-seeking mind appears to let go of the need to control where and how this bête noire shows up in the post-Cold War world of experiential expression.  Cage dies from a stroke in 1992 and the circle of his influence continues to expand.

Where the Heart Beats is a fascinating book and not one to be taken on as a quick read.  It is perfect in parts and imperfect in others.  But it pays back with a luscious taste of a time that was creatively wild and which graced us with wise sages who came down from the mountains.  As Zen scholar and artist Kazuaki Tanahashi often says, “The enso contains the perfect and imperfect; that is why it is always complete.”  For that, Larson’s own enso is to be commended for her diligent effort and aspiration to completeness.

painting the rice cake

Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye edited by Kaz Tanahashi: The Moon (tsuki)

The pronunciation means “moon”; the ideograph can mean “entire” (tsu) and “function” (ki) (Glossary, p 1071).  Dogen points out our tendency to get caught in absolutes and to be blind to the 10, 000 dharmas (the moon) contained in the smallest drop of dew.  And we do love our assumptions about how things should be: full moon, half-moon, moon rising, moon setting.

He writes of Nagarjuna who was teaching to an assembly and challenged that “even if (he spoke) of buddha nature, no one (could) see it.”  Nagarjuna responded that in order to see buddha nature, we have to let go of our pride.  He “manifested a body of complete freedom in the shape of a full moon” but no one in the assembly understood what was happening; an understandable reaction when we’re caught in our own translation code of the world.  One among the crowd, Kanadeva, explained that “the samadhi of no-form has taken the shape of a full moon.  Buddha nature is vast, empty, and clear.”

That moon of buddha nature cannot be capture in a single circle.  It cannot be contained in the lines of the brush.  

Know that when you paint the manifestation of a full moon, do it on a dharma seat.

Otherwise it will have no shape of moon, of the moon’s full being or thusness.  Otherwise, “you are not embodying the expression and painting the expounding of dharma, but merely creating a piece of painted rice cake.”

It is only by letting go of our preconceptions of something is, letting go of our pride, that we can truly paint – manifest – reality.

Never paint what cannot be painted.  Paint straightforwardly what needs to be painted.

the teaching of whole-hearted sitting

Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye edited by Kaz Tanahashi: teaching styles

“Wind” can refer to teaching styles and Dogen describes his own journey in search of a teacher.  

After the aspiration for enlightenment arose, I began to search for dharma, visiting teachers at various places in our country….  Later I went to Great Song China, visited masters on both sides of the Zhe River, and heard the teachings of the Five Schools.  Finally, I became a student of Zen Master Rujing of Taibai Peak and completed my life’s quest of the great matter.

It’s no easy journey, this finding of a teacher who can rouse the fires or stoke the coals of an aspiration for enlightenment.  We get caught up – student and teacher alike – in our craving not just for the teachings but for what the teachings will bring us.  We may wish that “the wind of the ancient sages be heard,” but we may wish for the sound to arise from our small heart.

There may be true students who are not concerned with fame and gain who allow their aspiration for enlightenment to guide them and earnestly desire to practice the buddha way.  They may be misguided by incapable teachers and obstructed from the correct understanding; intoxicated in confusion, they may sink into the realm of delusion for a long time.  How can they nourish the correct seed of prajna and encounter the time of attaining the way?

It’s a good question for our time of tangled lineages and multiplicity of sketchy teachers.  Dogen advises:

From the first time you meet a master, without depending on incense offering, bowing, chanting buddha names, repentance, or reading scriptures, just wholeheartedly sit, and thus drop away body and mind.

I would add that in the search of a teacher we take care of who we think is a master.  There is a difference between someone who is a master of befriending her own delusions and one who is  a master of befriending ours.