Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When jumping, just jump?

As Miles reaffirmed in our last post, "When walking, just walk; when eating, just eat" - or as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, "Drink your tea!" The Zen mind is entirely absorbed in the present moment.

The star of this video is entirely absorbed in the moment - he has to be, for if his mind wanders, he dies, right now!

But is it Zen?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Science of Zen

It appears that at least some scientists are catching on.  Maybe people will pay more attention to the data than they have to the actual experience.  The less engaged we are in what we are doing, the unhappier we are.  

Living in the moment is the fundamental teaching of Zen.
When walking just walk, when eating just eat.
What could be simpler?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Zen mushrooming

Greetings from Babice, a village about 20 km south-east of Prague which constitutes my new home.  Here the national sport is, allegedly, ice hockey, although participation is far greater in a much less violent sport: mushrooming.

Bohemia is a heavily forested land, much like the landscape around the Open Gate zendo, only hillier and with slightly smaller trees. It is an ideal envionment for the growth of mushrooms.

Back home in England by "mushroom" we mean a field mushroom, a white-topped thing with dark or russet gills - but here they mean forest mushrooms, some red-topped with spots which are good seating for gnomes but toxic for humans and others more edible but which look equally unhealthy.

As you can see from the recent picture of my kitchen, I enjoy mushrooming.

At present, this is my Zen practice.

The difficulty inherent in mushrooming is that where one mushroom is found is the place most likely to find others, so in finding one it is easy to forget to celebrate one's good fortune, instead immediately looking for the next.

In this environment, Zen practice is to focus fully on the mushroom in one's hand. Take the knife, clean the mushroom with one-pointed mind, gently place it in the basket...and only then look for the next.

Does your environment offer similar forms of Zen practice?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Going Home

Flying high above Washington State.
Sea-Tac, Snow on Mount Rainier.
Drinking the last drops of Miles tea.
Early morning sunlight, trees.
Looking for Hánshān over there.
Nature, just a word.
A word: Mu.
Going home after leaving it.
Mu, that's what the cows say in Argentina.

Doshin Fugetsu Hoja
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Friday, June 22, 2012

Owning Nothing


Without a hermitage in the mountains,
or a monastery to be welcomed,
I want nothing to carry on
except this bag of skin and bones.

In the middle of city I'm alone,
isolated as the unborn.
Living in the world
I learn to let go and not have.

As I watch the cars passing by
I understand that there is nothing to take away.
This skin and bones will remain here,
and my flutes and guitars too.

When I see I can not own anything,
I understand that no one has ever owned anything.
When I breath, all such constructs cease,
And when everything stops, I'm still breathing.

Hernán Massau,  
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Steve's question

Steve came over this evening for dokusan. Here he is.

When I was walking him back through the compound to the main gate he asked me a question. He said that he had taken up Zen when going through a difficult time - and had found it most supportive. However, how should he view it now that life was going well?

How would you have replied?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Beginner's Mind

I had a new student come round last night.

It was really helpful - I always find I learn more from my students than they do from me. What I (re)learnt from him was the value of "beginner's mind" - that sharp-witted, open-hearted, entirely committed state which brings the best spiritual practice.

It shone a mercilessly bright searchlight straight at my own practice, which had become so stale it was just an occasional token nod in the vague direction of Zen. What's the point of pretending to practise?

Thus learning from his example, I turned myself back into an absolute beginner by adopting a form of Zen practice entirely new to me. (For those that are interested, I have replaced my fake shikantaza with naikan. If you're not familiar with naikan, there's an excellent summary at and an explanation with some helpful real-life examples at

Of course, it's not entirely new to me, in that all Zen practices are just different fingers pointing towards the same Great Mind. However, it is new enough to have given me back that "beginner's mind" - and suddenly Zen seems once more like a blessing, not a chore.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Zen and Tea

I recently had a guest who came to the Zendo to discuss the matter of Zen. He was a well read practitioner who had some questions regarding Zen teachings and practices. I invited him into the dokusan room where we sat on cushions at a low table while I prepared tea. I offered that we would drink tea in silence, but he was welcome to speak while I was preparing the tea.

After the usual pleasantries, he seemed to get more comfortable and his questions began to be more pointed. As I poured the water from the kettle to the tea pot he said “I understand that you have trained in multiple traditions including Japanese Zen and Chinese Ch’an”

“This is true.” I confirmed.

“With Zen and Ch’an being so different, which do you practice?”

While thinking to answer his question, I selected four small tea cups from the shelf and placed them on the table, two in front of him and two in front of me. The tea was ready, so I poured a bit of tea into each of the four cups. “Please have some tea.”

We each picked up a cup and began drinking our tea. After drinking from the first cup, I picked up my second cup and began drinking from it; in turn, he did the same.

When we had both returned our cups to the table, I said “This is a very special grade of Oolong tea, how do you like it?”

“Very nice.” he replied with a nod.

“These cups are also special; one is made of Yi Shing clay and comes from China, the other is raku and comes from Japan. Did you notice the difference between the tea from the first cup and the tea from the second?”

“No I’m sorry, I didn’t notice any difference at all.” he replied.

“Nor did I….would you like some more?”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Am I?

Always present,
But hidden from view;
Sought by many,
But found by few.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Zen Outreach in Kenya

I would like to reignite a discussion I started a long time ago. It concerns the degree to which Zen should or should not be an evangelising religion. (Let's just call it a religion for now - one variable at a time, please!)

I have just completed a weekend near Lake Victoria, Kenya, haivng been invited by Spencer (pictured below)

to assist in a Zen teaching session, right in the middle of nowhere.  It was a somewhat "samurai" experience as, this being something of a blind date, I was invited as much to bring along my machete as my satori. Fortunately the natives were friendly and so the steel stayed sheathed.

We appear to have been invited on account of a perceived inability of Christianity to keep its promises. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, merely reporting that our host who has formed the Zen group pictured, having until recently been a Christian preacher, said, "The Pentecostalists said there would be miracles, so people came and prayed for miracles - but I never saw a single one!"

Thus he investigated an alternative and asked Spencer, who facilitates "Zen Kenya," to provide instruction. He only discovered that such tuition was available because Zen Kenya had gone to the trouble of making its existence and teaching role known.

My point is that if Zen Kenya had been terribly Zen, terribly self-effacing, then the excellent practice of anapanasati, as very clearly taught by Spencer, would be a gift ungiven - and the Africans pictured would be bereft of something beautiful.

I'm not saying we should copy Jehova's team (put on a suit, grab a child, go ringing doorbells.)
However, I feel we are breaking our Bodhisattva vows if we do not quietly and respectfully use all skillful means available to make the practice and fruits of meditation available to as many people as possible.