all within mind

The house finch looks like it’s been dipped in a bucket of raw grape juice.  They don’t tend to come by much.  The larger birds might be keeping them away.  Yet every so often, at dusk, there will be one or two that swoop down to the feeders.  In some lights, they appear red, in others they take on a bluish tinge.  In all lights, they exude a sense of having just surfaced from a great depth, dripping colour from crown to chest.

When I see them, I feel as though they are part of a vast red-blue-ness that sometimes separates away in little fragments and the colour is a direct transmission from some boundless ocean.

Mind as the directly transmitted buddhadharma is used in the sense of mind extending throughout all things, and of all things being included within mind.  When we speak of a zazen based on the innate oneness of mind and environment, it should not be understood that zazen is a method of psychic concentration or of trying to still one’s mind.

Kosho Uchiyama writes in The Tenzo Kyokun and Shikantaza (in The Art of Just Sitting, edited by John Daido Loori) and goes on to ask “What, then, is the meaning of mind extending throughout all things and all things being included within mind?” 

What is the colour of a house finch?

last words

A few weeks ago, a police officer was killed in the line of duty.

He was in the parking lot of a local hospital emergency room when he was attacked and stabbed.

Paramedics nearby rushed to his aid.

It is reported that he said two words to them as he died.

“Thank you.”

Fundamentally, no matter what kind of circumstances we may have fallen into, we are always in the midst of enlightenment.  To the extent that we live in the world of letting go of all our own puny ideas, we live in the middle of enlightenment.  As soon as we open the hand of thought and let go of our own insignificant ideas, we begin to see that this is so.

from Opening the Hand of Thought by Uchiyama

Thank you for practicing,


last resort

last resort ( again)

A final expedient or recourse to achieve some end or settle a difficulty. For example, If you don’t improve, we’ll try this new medication as a last resort. This term originally referred to a court of law from which there was no appeal. [Late 1600s]

In sangha last night, we shared about the challenge of acting with compassion towards those who have caused harm.  Martine Batchelor’s talk given at Upaya Zen Center on compassion as an expression of ethics encouraged an open-hearted questioning of the challenges we face in families.  Sometimes a spontaneous expression of regret to someone who is suffering the consequences of their own actions can be seen by others as taking sides.  Sometimes it is just impossible to conceive of someone being worthy of compassion and feelings of hate arise.  The actual challenge we felt was in facing ourselves in our anger and vengefulness without layering on self-loathing.

Most people live by their desires or karma.  They go through their lives dragged around by desires and hindered by the consequences of previous harmful actions…. We are born into our lives with our desires and may live our whole lives just reacting or responding to them.

from Opening the Hand of Thought by Uchiyama

I suggested that perhaps the best we can sometimes do as bodhisattvas-in-training is to ensure that the potential for further damage stops with us.

In contrast to that (living by karma or desires) is the way of life of a bodhisattva who lives by vow.  The life that flows through each of us and through everything around us is actually all connected.

Then someone suggested that perhaps by living as best we can, we might develop a “herd immunity” to anger, greed, and misunderstanding.

Thank you for practicing and inoculating,


last mile

I was playing on and entered the word “last” + the wild card *.  Along with the usual suspects of “last gasp”, “last straw” and so on, was “last mile”.  But it wasn’t the last mile of a condemned person.

last mile

The phrase used to describe one of the problems in attaining higher-speed, higher-capacity information flow to every household. It refers to the copper telephone wire that still carries information to households. The limited capacity of the wire slows data transmission even though it is possible to send data over high-capacity systems from anywhere in the world to within the “the last mile” (give or take) before the house. The use of cable technology, fiber optic technology, and wireless satellite technology are several of the solutions used to address this problem.

I wonder if our wiring to receive bodhisattva-hood is similar?

Uchiyama writes that a bodhisattva is one who lives by vow and repentance.  I had to suspend my automatic assumptions of these words to understand his meaning.  To live without being derailed by emotions and thoughts, to devote ourselves to the growth and care of others,  to set the course in that direction is vow.  It is a life direction, the zazen practitioners’ whole life directionTo repent is to know our inability to fulfill itIt is not a matter for regret or seeking forgiveness but rather a willingness to face what islife straight on.

When there is no vow, we lose sight of progress;
when there is no repentance, we lose our way.

You are a bodhisattva.  I am a bodhisattva.  Yet I also perceive things differently from you, experience things in ways that do not always transmit across that last mile. In that silence, I falter and get lost.  It makes me wonder what the attrition rate is for bodhisattvas?

But we try again, anyway:  to transmit across that last mile, to cultivate willingness to continue even when blind to any progress we may be making and lost to all but ourselves.

Thank you for practicing,


last being

There’s an old saying, “The poor farmer makes weeds, the mediocre one makes crops, and the skilled farmer makes soil.”

from Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama

Not being last has become a deep question for me.  I haven’t fully grasped it or refined my thinking into it.  Just a warning that this post is a working on progress.

Growing up I had a sense that there were two categories which measured performance: First and the Rest.  Later I was taught to say supportive things like, “Well, if you’re going to be last, be the Best Last!”  I don’t think the kids to whom I imparted that piece of useless wisdom bought it because… frankly, kids are good at spotting a BSBB… bullshit brain baffler.

Not being last has been a driving force for me in my career, my limpid athletic endeavours, everything.  Then some unknown time ago, I began to feel this drivenness more as a puzzle than an imperative.

Standing at the early-registration table for a conference on mindfulness, I was jostled aside by another registrant who indicated she had got there first.  I smiled and said, “It’s ok.  As long as we’re not the last.”

“If you’re going to be last, then be the best last,” she responded sharply.

Never one to resist a teaching moment or a red cape, I snorted oxishly, “There’s only four of us here.  If we were the last, what would happen to this conference?”

Kyle responded to the initiating post on this topic, Only when we see ourselves as seperate (sic) from first and last do first and last occur. First and last are no different.

Perhaps.  In historic reality, first and last are distinctly – extinctly – different.  There are consequences to being last.  I think about the Do-Do bird.  The dinosaurs.  The recent extinct species in North America.  What made them the last of their kind?  In the race to survival, what failed for them?

The answer might be as simple as the fact that something didn’t get passed on.  Some crucial factor or teaching about adaptation wasn’t cultivated.  All beings are vulnerable to this system failure.  I suspect, even Bodhisattvas are capable of becoming the last being.

So, in that first moment of our Bodhisattva-hood, what is required of us to not be the last?

Thank you for practicing.


with thanks to Zendotstudio for reminding me to return to Uchiyama.