Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors, Part V

Once a monk asked Changsha, Zen Master Jingcen, “How do you turn mountains, rivers, and the great earth into the self?” Changsha said, “How do you turn the self into mountains, rivers, and the great earth?”

Saying that the self returns to the self is not contradicted by saying that the self is mountains, rivers, and the great earth.  Langye Huijue, Great Master Guangzhao, was a dharma descendant of Nanyue. Once Zhixuan, a lecturer on scriptures, asked Langye, “If originally unconditioned, how do mountains, rivers, and the great earth suddenly emerge?”

Langye responded, “If originally unconditioned, how do mountains, rivers, and the great earth suddenly emerge?”

Now we know. Mountains, rivers, and the great earth, which are originally unconditioned, should not be mistaken for mountains, rivers, and the great earth. The sutra master had never heard this, so he did not understand mountains, rivers, and the great earth as just mountains, rivers, and the great earth.

Know that without mountain colors and valley sounds, [Shakyamuni Buddhas] taking up the flower and [Huike’s] attaining the marrow would not have taken place. Because of tiie power of valley sounds and mountain colors, the Buddha with the great earth and sentient beings simultaneously attains the way, and countless buddhas become enlightened upon seeing the morning star. Such skin bags are earlier sages whose aspiration for seeking dharma is profound. People today should be inspired by predecessors like these. Authentic study, free of concern for fame and gain, should be based on such aspiration.

Tonight we are continuing our study of Dogen’s ‘Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors’.  In this section, Dogen is playing with the use of mountains and rivers as a metaphor for emptiness.  It’s a seemingly confusing passage, but I think it’s not that difficult really, although it’s a bit easier to focus on the overall meaning rather than a word-by-word interpretation.

On the one hand, we have actual mountains and rivers: we have the actual Sandia mountains, made of granite and water and trees and snakes; we have the actual Rio Grande, made of water and sandy banks and fish and birds.  Of course, when we look closely at either the Sandias or the Rio Grande, we can see that both are always changing – the sandy banks change after a flood, the water is always changing, and even the granite of the Sandias is slowly eroding.  But we’re not confused, we don’t usually say that the Rio Grande literally consists of everything in the universe.  We know what the Rio Grande is, we know what the Sandias are.

But on the other hand, we know, from studying Dogen, that the Sandias and the Rio Grande really do include everything – without the water evaporating from the Pacific Ocean, it wouldn’t have snowed in the Rio Grande headwaters and there wouldn’t be water in the river; without the sun, the water wouldn’t have evaporated; the late afternoon sunlight on the Sandias is red because of the scattering by particles in the atmosphere, and the Sandias themselves depend on the falling of rain and the moving of water in the rivers for their formation.  It goes on and on – it really is true that the Sandias and the Rio Grande are interdependent.  They are part of one seamless unity.  They are an instance of emptiness.  It’s really true.

In this passage, we see the teachers shifting back and forth between these two ways of seeing the mountains and rivers.  There really are mountains and rivers and the Earth, and they really are empty.  If we aren’t careful we can get stuck on one side or the other.  Before we come to practice, this all seems like gibberish – there are mountains and there are rivers, conventionally understood.  But after we practice for a while, we might get stuck in thinking that it’s all just one thing, but I think this passage is pointing toward another interpretation of the Middle Way – mountains and rivers really are just the same conventional mountains and rivers we have always known, but they are also empty.  Our practice is to simply rest in this truth, sometimes called the ‘two truths’.

In the last paragraph, Dogen refers to some traditional stories to tell us that it’s because of these truths that the Buddha was able to attain awakening and transmit the teaching to Mahakasyapa and that Huike was able to receive the teaching from Bodhidharma.

He shifts gears now and in the next passage, exhorting us to practice with sincerity, not for fame and gain.  This is a classic teaching from Dogen.

In this remote nation in recent days those who genuinely seek buddha dharma are rare—it is not that there are none. Many people leave their households, appearing free from worldly matters, but in fact they use the buddha way to seek fame and gain. What a pity! How sad that they waste their time in unilluminated trades! When will they break away and attain the way? If they meet a true teacher, how will they recognize the true dragon?

Rujing, my late master, Old Buddha, called such people “pitiful fellows.” Because of unwholesome causes in previous lives, they do not seek dharma for the sake of dharma. In this life, they are suspicious of the true dragon when they see it, and are put off by genuine dharma when they encounter it. As their body, mind, flesh, and bones are not ready to follow dharma, they are unable to receive it.

Because the lineage of the ancestral school started long ago, the aspiration for enlightenment has become a distant dream. How pitiful that people do not know about or see treasure even though they were born on a mountain of treasure!  Where can they find dharma treasure?

As soon as you arouse the aspiration for enlightenment, even if you transmigrate in the six realms and four forms of birth, transmigration itself will be your vow for enlightenment. Although you may have wasted time so far, you should vow immediately, before this present life ends:

Together with all sentient beings, may I hear the true dharma from this birth throughout future births. When I hear the true dharma, I will not doubt or distrust it. When I encounter the true dharma, I will relinquish ordinary affairs and uphold the buddha dharma. Thus, may I realize the way together with the great earth

and all sentient beings.

This vow is the ground for genuine aspiration. Do not slacken in this determination.

This last section is pretty easy to understand – Dogen is encouraging us not to be suspicious of the ‘true dragon’, a real teacher or the real teaching.  He is also telling us that it’s not too late – even if you’ve been wandering around in samsara, that very wandering can be your vow of awakening.  Then he encourages us to take a very clear vow.

I remember reading this passage during my years at Zen Center, when I was really thinking a lot about ordaining, and I sort of gasped when I read this vow, because I strongly felt that I had in fact already taken this vow.  There was something about it that really grabbed me, and even though it took me a few more years before I ordained, there’s something about this passage that continues to inspire me.

I will leave you again with the inspiring words of John Muir, who has a few things to say about how we can come to see that we are, as Dogen said, born on a mountain of treasure, but do not see it or know it:

Fresh beauty opens one’s eyes wherever it is really seen, but the very abundance and completeness of the common beauty that besets our steps prevents its being absorbed and appreciated. It is a good thing, therefore, to make short excursions now and then to the bottom of the sea among dulse and coral, or up among the clouds on mountain-tops, or in balloons, or even to creep like worms into dark holes and caverns underground, not only to learn something of what is going on in those out-of-the-way places, but to see better what the sun sees on our return to common every-day beauty.

So please continue to join us as we sit among the clouds on mountain-tops and at the bottom of the sea among the dulse and coral.

–Taisan Joe Galewsky

Beyond Doing and Not-Doing

The late Zen teacher Myo-On Maurine Stuart had a saying that I read years ago and that has stuck with me: “The thing that you can do or not do won’t do.” I think there is something helpful here for us to consider.


First I just want to point out that if we look at our Women Ancestors chant, we will find Stuart toward the end of that list. She made a significant contribution to bringing the Zen tradition to the U.S. She was an artist; an accomplished concert pianist. And significantly in our historically patriarchal tradition, she was a woman. I often like to remind myself that we in the modern world have some things to offer this ancient tradition that is giving us so much – like feminism for instance, and science, and democracy. It’s good to remember, so we don’t think we should be medieval Japanese, or merely subject to some fixed tradition. That is not Zen.

So, what is she talking about here? From a conventional standpoint, her statement is nonsense. Worse, it could be read as a sort of zen provocation, to be responded to with a clever retort. This happens.

But I think she gets at the feeling we start to arrive into, when “shit gets real” as the saying goes. When things get hard, really hard for us, we are forced sometimes to go beyond our limited ideas of ourselves, each other, and the world around us. When we begin to open into that feeling of helplessness, we simultaneously find ourselves drawn to appeal to some greater power. We can call this power zazen.

Twelve Step programs talk about this. The first three steps describe realizing the problem of suffering, recognizing the insufficiency of controlling everything, and turning to a higher power of one’s understanding. I find the parallels with our own tradition inspiring.

In our way we take refuge in the higher powers of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Buddha is things as it is – fundamentally complex (and fundamentally good) beyond comprehension or control. Dharma is our heart/mind responding to conditions with uprightness. And Sangha is coming together like this to support each other, and face the challenges of being an enlightening being in an enlightening society. All of these capacities (if we are truly honest) are beyond us, as we inevitably experience ourselves in a contracted, alienated way.

Sitting on our own is important. I suggest everyone sit every day, including me. Taigen just celebrated 40 years of sitting everyday, but he’s like us. He sometimes is scheduled, and sometimes he fits it in when he can. Remember, you can do zazen for a minute, for just one breath. But 30 minutes is good too. Sitting alone is good; but just sitting alone without sitting with others on some sort of regular basis I have come to genuinely think might be worse than useless (and I’ve heard ancestors say this is in fact so). Practicing alone can reinforce some problematic tendencies, if done to excess or without guidance, and we remain cut off and prone to our mind’s predilection to avoid and deny the harder stuff. We can’t do it alone.

So, going beyond the thing that you can do or not do is in fact the vital process on the path of going beyond Buddha. It may not look like how you think it should look. This is why we listen to the ancestors when they caution us to avoid setting up standards of our own. Which may seem to contradict the teaching that we must go beyond Buddha. These conundrums point us toward a place of surrendering the illusion of total control, which I feel is close to the heart of our zazen practice.


Covered in Acceptance

Continuing in our investigation of Dogen’s “Awesome Presence of Active Buddhas”[Gyobutsu Iigi], I wish to concentrate on this passage:

“…an old Buddha [Hongzhi Zhengjao] said, “Reach over to grasp what’s there, and bring its workings right here.”

            When you take on sustaining this, all things, bodies, actions, and buddhas become intimate with you. These actions, things, bodies, and buddhas are simply immersed [covered] in acceptance. Because they are simply immersed in acceptance, through acceptance they are simply dropped off [released].”

This I think is an exceptionally rich and beautiful passage, that encapsulates a certain essence of Dogen’s teaching.

Dogen quotes an influential Soto ancestor from a century or so earlier, Hongzhi. He is something of a personal favorite of mine, that I discovered almost 20 years ago in a wonderful translation by Taigen Dan Leighton, who many years later would of course become my teacher. I recommend everyone seek Hongzhi out – bring his workings right here! He is perhaps most famous in our tradition for his koan compilation, The Book of Serenity.

I love this phrase from Hongzhi. Once again, we have this potential contrast from a cliché idea of so-called meditation, where we sit placidly, even blankly, letting our worldly or personal concerns, or even our personality, sort of evaporate or something. Good luck with that! Actually, to some degree that may occur. But whatever that is it perhaps is not actually Buddhism. That is not the heart of Zen.

We often remain caught in our world between this idea of “doing” and “not doing”. On the other side of the meditation divide, many people – fewer lately perhaps, but still, a lot of people – think that sitting still is some kind of drag on the Gross National Product. We have those who think that meditation is a tool for achieving some special state that will insulate them from problems, and we have others who think that if they stop doing things for one second, their universe may implode. Maybe you know people like this. Maybe some of them have shown up on your cushion at some point this evening.

Hongzhi’s quote points to this kind of not-doing doing. It is an active, vital process, zazen. We allow problems to find us, and we sit there with them. We allow their workings to manifest, and we investigate. Not just with our rational mind, but with our whole body and our whole heart. Hongzhi indicates how active buddhas manifest, and function. It’s not psychoanalysis; but he alludes to how it’s maybe not not psychoanalysis, either. Zazen can be an envisioning practice; we can utilize our creative and intuitive capacities to better understand others, the world, and ourselves in order to be happier, healthier, and more efficacious in our vow to be of use and of help.

Dogen then points out what the quality of this effort begins, in time, to look like. It is sustained. It took me many years to begin to develop a more sustainable practice. When I was younger, I recognized the importance of sustainability, at all levels. For instance I was very interested in sustainable agriculture, the kind of thing Wes Jackson has been investigating in Kansas for decades. But I am not a farmer. I’m an artist, and Zen person. So what is sustainable effort for us, we urban house-holding practitioners? It is a living question, that we are checking out together. Our tradition in fact teaches that sustainability is actually much more important than having some special experience on your cushion. I think showing up weekly as many of us are doing is a great foundation, hopefully seasoned with a bit of daily practice and an occasional intensive. It is vital I feel to recognize and embrace that we aren’t monastics, so our practice can’t look like it did in Buddha’s time, or even Dogen’s. It’s going to have a different sustainable vision.

So Dogen says that when you find this sustainable quality, you will find that your life is immersed in acceptance. How lovely is that? That’s what we’re really seeking. Peace of mind with ourselves and things as they are. Serenity. It is possible. This is the direction of every religious or spiritual path, and every human life. We desire sustainable sanity, acceptance, and patience with ourselves and others.

The final twist Dogen puts on this is once again another key to his teaching. He employs the phrase “dropping off”, which we’ve touched on before. It was that phrase that led Dogen to his deepest awakening into the true nature of zen. I think “releasing” or released is a helpful alternate translation. When we settle into a deeper sense of ourselves, we accept and love ourselves, and that begins to extend to others; there is an aspect of release. We are able to let go of our compulsive need to control everything, which causes so much suffering for ourselves and others.

At some level, in some context, we can all be control freaks, we are all addictive, we can all be compulsive, OCD if you will, even without a diagnosis. We have to see this. We have to bring the workings of our grasping, our dysfunctions, in really close, get intimate with them. Paradoxically, it is only through this intimacy that we can then accept, and then release these patterns of grasping, and in that releasing, find a deeper inner calm and peace. Covered in and protected by acceptance, we can let go…and let God, as the saying goes – which we can call Tao, Buddha, or even Dharma or Sangha. In turn or all at once.

Peace has to become our greatest priority; peace arising out of real insight and real acceptance. This is what Dogen I think is talking about here. This is our zazen practice.


Gyobutsu Iigi, continued…

Gyobutsu Iigi, continued

Well, we are slowly working our way through this 14 page text. After 2 talks now, we are inching onto the third page. This is maybe a good Soto Zen pace.

This next section is really quite thorny. But Dogen does introduce here one of the central if not the central teaching in our ancestral way, and that is the idea of “practice-enlightenment.” I wish to just concentrate on introducing this, especially as it might be a new idea to some of us.

From Dogen’s perspective, most Buddhist or religious teaching that he had encountered before meeting his true heart teacher suffered fundamentally from some dualistic idea, no matter how subtle or how obvious. For instance, if you think Buddha exists solely outside of you at some remove, this is a problem. If you think you have attained Buddha, and no longer feel as if you are on a path investigating “the vital process on the path of going beyond buddha,” this likewise can be a problem.

I think as Buddhism and many other yogic traditions are being introduced into our materialistic paradigm, they are finding themselves prone to certain misunderstandings more or less particular to our time and place. Though he’s hardly the only one to point it out, Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was especially eloquent and adamant in his warnings that “spiritual materialism” is the greatest threat Dharma faces in the modern world. He understood our tendency to superficially grasp things, and to perhaps move along when faced with deeper challenges to our self-idea. We don’t get to the heart of our grasping, our deep and abiding stuckness in limited conceptions of the self, from which stems so much suffering for ourselves and others.

So I think we can look out and see that there is this flowering of interest in meditation, “mindfulness”, yoga, and the like. And all of this can’t help but to be a good thing. But there are pitfalls on the path, and I can from personal experience relate that encountering good clear teaching is not so common.

So this teaching of “practice-enlightenment” is good medicine. I think it is in fact essential. Dogen certainly said as much. I find I am often reflecting on the question of what is essential on our path. Today, driving down 12th St, just by the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center in fact, I had the thought “sitting quietly upright (zazen) is essential; the teaching of the emptiness of all dharmas is essential; taking refuge is essential; and practice-enlightenment is essential.” I could add other things (precepts, the okesa, etc), but maybe they stem from these, I don’t know; I’d maybe have to think about that one some more.

So I think we all completely and fully already understand this point, because we are all here and not for the first time. We just sat for 35 minutes (our first night extending our time a bit, by request), and we fully experienced the vital process of going beyond any idea of what zazen might be, and just investigated what was occurring on our cushion in the moment. My first Zen teacher, Seung Sahn, used to preface many responses to questions with “you already understand!” I think this is so true; but sometimes we ask because we need to hear it from another mouth.

We deeply understand that coming together and sitting and bowing and reciting sutras and carving out some space to honor awakeness is in itself a good, noble, wholesome business. It is the path, and the goal. We know that if it were to supposedly occur somewhere else, sometime else, that this is would simply be another dualistic problem in itself, when in fact we come to sit to wholly resolve those dualisms in our surrendering to presence.


The Dignified Manner of Active Buddhas, part one

I recently visited Chicago, and my teacher Taigen Dan Leighton, to participate in our annual Rohatsu Sesshin, traditionally celebrated the first week in December in honor of the historical Buddha’s awakening. Throughout the week. Taigen discussed Eihei Dogen’s essay Gyobutsu Iigi. While Taigen himself had previously translated this title as “The Awesome Presence of Active Buddhas,” he stated he wished to give it a different translation and hence a subtly different interpretation. He alternately translated it as something akin to “The Dignified Manner of Active Buddhas.” I wished to in the coming weeks also speak about this text, introduce some of Taigen’s ideas about it, and open it up for discussion and use in our practice here in New Mexico. In Chicago, I found myself excited to come back and share this wonderful teaching.

This week I will concentrate on just the first two paragraphs, reproduced here from Taigen and Kaz Tanahashi’s collaborative translation from a few years back:

“Buddhas invariably practice complete awesome presence (dignified manner); thus they are active buddhas. Active buddhas are neither reward-body buddhas, nor incarnate-body buddhas, neither self manifesting buddhas, nor buddhas manifesting for others. Active buddhas are neither originally enlightened, nor enlightened beginning at some time, neither naturally enlightened, nor without enlightenment. Such kinds of buddhas can never compare with active buddhas.

            “Know that buddhas in the buddha way do not wait for awakening. Only active buddhas fully experience the vital process on the path of going beyond buddha. This is something that those such as self manifesting buddhas have never seen even in a dream.”

Gyobutsu is translated here as “active buddha/s.” Gyo can also mean walking, moving; generally engaging in activity. This distinction itself is already instructive, in that perhaps we often equate Buddha with stillness, non-action, emptiness, and a sort of transcendence. In other words, buddha sits; she’s not doing anything. But here, buddha is sort of intrinsically active (or buddha’s are.)

Iigi indicates how this buddha activity manifests; how it looks or feels, perhaps. And we can see this immediately in the context of practice, and how our traditions inculcate or model for us this attitude or posture of iigi. So the meaning of this phrase lies perhaps somewhere between, or beyond, these two translations.

“Awesome presence” sounds pretty high-falutin. And buddha, or awakened presence, can certainly feel quite awesome, which is to say profound. But Taigen’s alternate translation of “dignified manner” gently brings it all back to earth a little. The threat here is that we can maybe interpret this dignity to be sort of stuffy or uptight – I think of the British upper classes as lampooned by Monty Python or something. This uptightness (in a Zen iteration) certainly happens among practitioners. Maybe things can look a little pretentious, sometimes. And that’s ok too – maybe even corrective.

But hopefully with some good instruction, good modeling, and some consistency over time, we get to a point with our forms and postures and basic zendo etiquette where we inhabit them with a kind of naturalness and gentleness that are sort of dignified and awesome, but in a very unpretentious and deeply human way. We aren’t aware of being dignified or awesome; rather, we just recognize that our Zen way is just a good way. Not the best way even, but good enough. If we take care of it, it takes care of us.

So Dogen then lists all these different sorts of buddhas, referencing categories of attainment found in various scriptures and versions of Dharma through Buddhist history. But he says none of these kinds of buddhas can compare with active buddhas. So clearly, these active buddhas are important to know about.

I love this next line: “Know that buddhas in the buddha way do not wait for awakening.” I am intimate with this feeling. I feel generally unprepared to talk to you about buddha. I sometimes feel completely unworthy to speak about zen. That said, I love talking with you about buddhadharma; my teacher has asked me to do so, and I like being given this homework. But it would be very easy for me to entertain the idea, “I have not attained complete perfect awakening, and am therefore unable to speak to you about Zen.” This idea however would contradict Dogen himself. And as another teacher in our tradition has said, sometimes “you have to say something.”

Dogen further clarifies that Active Buddhas (which as he’s just flat out stated are the ultimate buddhas), “fully experience the vital process on the path of going beyond Buddha.” We all can apprehend this directly; we came here tonight, or we sit down each day in zazen, and we directly drop off our ideas of self or zen, and aim toward directly experiencing our life as it is in this moment. We release our idealistic notions of Buddha or zen, and we just sit. This is a quite vital process of going beyond any idea, and tasting reality for ourselves. Its active; its engaged. It’s not disassociated, it’s not an homage to another time and place, or being named Buddha.

Someone has asked about the historical distinction regarding “sudden” enlightenment schools versus the “gradual” path. As you can I think immediately recognize, once again, these distinctions are maybe not so useful, or even fundamentally meaningful. Of course we have sudden-seeming insights; but hopefully we have those in the context of long-term, committed practice on the path of going beyond buddha, be that in relationships, work, healing, parenting, or our formal zen discipline.

-Keizan Titus O’Brien

Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors, Part IV

One spring day, after practicing for thirty years, Lingyun, who would later become Zen Master Zhiqin, walked into the mountains. While resting he saw peach blossoms in full bloom in a distant village and was suddenly awakened. He wrote this poem, which he presented to Guishan:

For thirty years I have looked for a sword master.

Many times leaves fell, new ones sprouted. One glimpse of peach blossoms—

now no more doubts, just this.

Guishan said, “One who enters with ripened conditions will never leave.” He approved Lingyun in this way.

We are continuing our close reading of Dogen’s wonderful ‘Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors’ this evening.  And in this section, Dogen presents another awakening story about how an external sound or sight, especially in a pristine natural setting, can bring forth awakening.  Little is known about Lingyun beyond his teachings, but Dogen wrote extensively about them, and especially about this story.

We don’t know why Lingyun went into the mountains, but it appears that this was after he had been practicing for a long time.  Perhaps, like in our other stories last week, his teacher saw that he needed to change the context of his practice.  As Guishan comments later, something had ripened in his practice so that he was ready for this experience.  It’s certainly not hard to imagine the sight of peach blossoms as an occasion for awakening.

His poem suggests some degree of frustration or difficulty.  The imagery of leaves falling and new ones sprouting suggests that Lingyun somehow couldn’t keep up with his own karma, his own habits of mind and body.  Just when he would maybe clear something up, gain some intuition, something else would come along that would, at least seemingly, set him back.  But once he saw the peach blossoms, there was no more doubt.

Dogen wrote about exactly this point in one of his waka poems: “Petals of the peach blossom / Unfolding in the spring breeze / Sweeping aside all doubts / Amid the distraction of / leaves and branches.

What are the ripened conditions that his teacher, Guishan, refers to?  This is the ripening of karma, the coming to fruition of the cumulutive acts of our minds and bodies.  An understanding of karma is one of the most important things we can develop as practitioners.  It is not some arcane principle, it is a very direct and important way that we can cultivate happiness in ourselves and others.

The modern Tibetan teacher Geshe Tashi Tsering wrote a very succinct summary of karma:  “Intention is the most important of all mental events because it gives direction to the mind, determining whether we engage with virtuous, non-virtuous, or neutral objects. Just as iron is powerlessly drawn to a magnet, our minds are powerlessly drawn to the object of our intentions. . .

How do we accumulate karmic seeds? Every physical and verbal action is preceded by mental activity. Goodwill motivates a kind gesture; ill will motivates nasty words. Ill will is the intention to cause mental, emotional or physical harm. Thus, before and during a bad action, ill will is present in our mind. The presence of ill will before and during this act has an impact and influence on the mind due to which a certain potential is left behind. This potential is a karmic seed, a seed planted in our mind by physical, verbal or mental action. The strength or depth of this seed is determined by a number of factors, including how strong our intention is, whether we clearly understand what we are doing, whether we act on our intention and whether the physical and verbal action is completed.

Seeds will remain in the mind until they ripen or are destroyed. Seeds left by negative mental events and actions can be destroyed by the four opponent or antidotal powers. The most important of these four powers are regret for the negative act and a firm resolve not to act that way again in the future. Seeds left by positive mental events and actions can be destroyed by anger.”

Now these seeds are a potential, they haven’t really had an effect until they ripen.  For karmic seeds to ripen, the right circumstances must be there.  Sometimes this plays out in a negative way when we put ourselves in the same situations over and over again.  It’s kind of a karmic loop that keeps planting the seeds.

But Guishan is referring to a happier occasion for the ripening of karma.  In this case, it was Lingyun’s 30 years of practice and then departing for the mountains and then the chance seeing of the peach blossoms.  The 30 years of sincere practice planted some very strong, very positive seeds, seeds of awareness, mindfulness, compassion.  But they couldn’t ripen in the monastery.  Instead, Lingyun had to go out into the mountains and the occasion of seeing the peach blossoms brought all of those positive seeds to fruition.  But make no mistake – he had to be ready for that moment, his whole 30 years of practice made him ready.  And Guishan is saying that once you’re ready for this transcendent awakening, it just takes the tiniest nudge to bring you there.  Gradual cultivation, sudden awakening.

Dogen continues:

Who does not enter with ripened causes? Who enters and then goes away?  This awakening is not limited to Lingyun. If mountain colors were not the unconditioned body, how could this awakening have occurred?  This is how he inherited dharma from Guishan.

This passage speaks to the principle of original awakening, the idea that we all possess the seeds of awakening, the seeds of goodness, within us from the start.  In other words, we couldn’t have even been born without having ripened causes.  It was the ripened causes that allowed our parents to meet and for us to take this human form when we did.  This awakening is our birthright – who doesn’t have it?  Who can escape it?

This wasn’t just Lingyun’s experience, it’s all of ours.  The unconditioned body is the dharmakaya, the basic principle of wakefulness that permeates everything; the ground of reality is this awakening, the dharmakaya.  It’s the cause for ripening our karmic seeds.  It’s a beautiful image – the mountain colors themselves, the valley sounds, the natural world around us, these provide the fundamental occasion for our awakening, not because we are special or because we deserve it, it’s just because we have been born here, on this planet.  It’s what we get by being born on this beautiful planet Earth.  But like Lingyun, we must make our best effort, we have to do our part, to manifest the awakening that is all around us, to embody it, and bring it from the realm of potentiality to the realm of actuality.  This is Dogen’s great teaching of practice-enlightenment.

This idea of the natural world as the fundamental ground of our awakening and as our birthright is so inspiring, and John Muir’s writings evokes this in his great “Mountains of California”, especially his imagery of the wind reaching everywhere.  It reminds me of Dogen:

“The mountain winds, like the dew and rain, sunshine and snow, are measured and bestowed with love on the forests to develop their strength and beauty. However restricted the scope of other forest influences, that of the winds is universal. The snow bends and trims the upper forests every winter, the lightning strikes a single tree here and there, while avalanches mow down thousands at a swoop as a gardener trims out a bed of flowers. But the winds go to every tree, fingering every leaf and branch and furrowed bole; not one is forgotten; the Mountain Pine towering with outstretched arms on the rugged buttresses of the icy peaks, the lowliest and most retiring tenant of the dells; they seek and find them all, caressing them tenderly, bending them in lusty exercise, stimulating their growth, plucking off a leaf or limb as required, or removing an entire tree or grove, now whispering and cooing through the branches like a sleepy child, now roaring like the ocean; the winds blessing the forests, the forests the winds, with ineffable beauty and harmony as the sure result.”

–Taisan Joe Galewsky

Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors, Part III

We continue our study tonight of Dogen’s Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors.  In the previous sections, Dogen introduced us to Layman Dongpo, who expressed his awakening in a beautiful poem about his experience meditating late one night:

Valley sounds are the long, broad tongue.

Mountain colors are no other than the unconditioned body.

Eighty-four thousand verses are heard through the night.

What can I say about this in the future?

Dogen went on to talk about this poem and its meaning.  In tonight’s section, Dogen moves on to talk about another student and their awakening experience.

Xiangyan Zhixian studied at the assembly of Guishan Lingyou, Zen Master Dayuan, on Mount Gui, Guishan said, “You are bright and knowledgeable. Say something about yourself before your parents were born, but don’t use words learned from commentaries,”

This is quite a challenge coming from a senior teacher – he’s asking the student to respond directly in the moment, not to rely on the texts that he may have read.

Xiangyan tried and tried but could not say anything. He pored through many books he had collected over the years but could not come up with anything. Deeply ashamed, he burned the books and said, “A painting of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger. I will be just a cooking monk, not expecting to understand buddha dharma in this lifetime.”  A cooking monk means one who supports the assembly by cooking rice, an equivalent of a kitchen assistant in our country. He followed this vow for years.

Xiangyan tried to find something to say, but he couldn’t find anything in the texts, and he couldn’t find anything within himself, so he of course got rather frustrated at this!  The expression “A painting of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger” is a famous Zen expression and it’s meaning is clear – the dharma that we read about in the texts may be beautiful and inspiring, but ultimately, it’s not going feed our spiritual hunger.  Instead of trying to eat a painting of a rice cake, we need to eat a real rice cake, experience the dharma directly, in order to be satisfied.  It’s not that we don’t need paintings of rice cakes – indeed, in another essay, Dogen argues that the distinction between painted rice cakes and real rice cakes is immaterial – such painted rice cakes, the written teachings, the opportunity to learn from others, these are all true and important things.  But unless they are grounded in our own experience, they are ultimately not going to help us.

So Xiangyan sort of decides to step back from all of this – maybe he’s being overly dramatic by saying that he’ll never understand the dharma in this lifetime – but he’s not dropping out of practice.  Instead, he’s going to focus on serving the community and not worrying so much about his own attainment.  This is an excellent example for us.  Indeed, this is what a bodhisattva does.  They serve the community without regard for their own attainment.  Xiangyan is doing exactly what most teachers would recommend.

One day Xiangyan said to Guishan, “My mind is undifferentiated; I cannot speak. Can you speak for me. Master?”Guishan said,”l wouldn’t mind explaining it to you, but if I did, you would resent me in the future.”

You get the sense that Xiangyan was not quite at peace with his decision to back away from Guishan’s question.  We don’t know how much time has passed here, but it’s clear that Xiangyan is still wrestling with Guishan’s original question.  Guishan’s response is excellent – he’s being very direct.  He could just explain it to Xiangyan, but that wouldn’t really help him very much.  Xiangyan will need to keep wrestling with this question longer.

Sometime later, Xiangyan went to the memorial site of Nanyang Huizhong, National Teacher Dazheng, at Mount Wudang, and built himself a hut. For company, he planted some bamboo.

It sounds like some years have gone by, and maybe Xiangyan is no longer working in the kitchen and has instead gone to live on his own and just quietly continue his practice.

One day, while he was sweeping the path, a pebble flew up and struck a bamboo. At the unexpected sound, Xiangyan had thorough awakening. After bathing and cleansing himself, he faced Mount Gui, offered incense, prostrated himself, and said, “Master, if you had spoken for me at that time, this could not have happened. Your kindness is deeper than my parents’.”  

In other words, he gets it.  This sound of the pebble hitting the bamboo is just like the sound of the valley streams.  It points to emptiness, to interdependence, and this experience is what inspires Xiangyan.  He acknowledges the importance of Guishan’s teaching, his insistence that Xiangyan find this out for himself.  Sometimes the best teaching is just to encourage someone to find their own way.

Then he wrote a poem:

One stroke dissolves knowledge.

Struggle no longer needed.

I will follow the ancient path

not lapsing into quietude.

Noble conduct beyond sound and form—

no trace anywhere.

Those who have mastered the way

may call this an unsurpassable activity.

He presented this poem to Guishan, who said, “This fellow has gone through.”

This poem is analogous to Dongpo’s poem about the sound of the valley streams.  Here he is pointing to how the direct experience of hearing the pebble hitting the bamboo cuts through all of his ideas and thoughts about the teaching.  It’s a direct experience.  Now that he has had this experience, he commits himself to just continuing the practice.   That’s what we do.  We may have moments of transcendent insight, but then we return to the workplace and just continue our activity, transformed by our insight, but recognizing that the best way to express this inspiration is just to continue to live, to work, and to practice.

The great mountaineer and educator, Willi Unsoeld, who was on the first American team to climb Mount Everest and went on to help found the Evergreen State College in Washington, focused on experiencing the sacred in nature, the importance of risk in education and getting personal experience rather than relying on the experience of others.  About this need for direct experience, and what we do with it, he said:

Why don’t you stay in the wilderness? Because that isn’t where it is at; it’s back in the city, back in downtown St. Louis, back in Los Angeles. The final test is whether your experience of the sacred in nature enables you to cope more effectively with the problems of people. If it does not enable you to cope more effectively with the problems – and sometimes it doesn’t, it sometimes sucks you right out into the wilderness and you stay there the rest of your Life – then when that happens, by my scale of value; it’s failed. You go to nature for an experience of the sacred…to re-establish your contact with the core of things, where it’s really at, in order to enable you to come back to the world of people and operate more effectively. Seek ye first the kingdom of nature, that the kingdom of man might be realized.

It’s a beautiful sentiment, very relevant for our study of this text.  When we hear the sound of the valley streams and see the color of the mountains, our job is not to just retreat to the mountains, to the practice of quietude but instead it is to return to the city, refreshed and inspired, and able to continue in our bodhisattva activity.

Being Kind to Ourselves

I was recently reading a really lovely teaching from our founding teacher, Shogaku Shunryu Daiosho, commonly and affectionately known as Suzuki roshi. This is from the book Not Always So:

“I want for you to have the feeling of true practice, because even though I practiced zazen when I was young, I didn’t know exactly what it was…if we do not have some warm, big satisfaction in our practice, that is not true practice. Even though you sit, trying to have the right posture and counting your breath, it may still be lifeless zazen, because you are just following instructions. You are not kind enough with yourself.”

Roshi then goes on at length about the importance of being quite sensitive with yourself, tender and care-full. I think this kind of spirit is quite easy to lose, and perhaps difficult to regain. It is very simple, but subtle and quite intimate: how do we know the right attitude toward our practice? We might call it our inner posture.

We might have pretty good outer posture, but our inner posture can be out of sync. Roshi tells us that the most important thing is to have a big, warm satisfied feeling in our practice. I think this might come as a kind of shock to some people, even (or maybe even especially) some longtime practitioners. I think it is possible for us to have periods of great enthusiasm, and periods of great doubt or even despair about practice. Or maybe we are just bored, listless.

Roshi indicates a wonderful sort of corrective prescription for a myriad of practice afflictions. He says to be warm, satisfied, and most importantly, kind to ourselves. Can we sit zazen in this spirit? Can we help build an atmosphere and community that encourages this posture, this attitude, this possibility? I think so. I trust our Way to show us how this can be possible, to help us to tap into that inherent capacity we all have to be present, to forgive ourselves and others, to be kind: to not just endure, but to live; not to just survive, but thrive even. Zazen should help us to express this, and not just be another program we are signing up for, or measure by which we find ourselves wanting.

I think we are doing a wonderful job collectively as a new sangha of creating a warm, welcoming feeling. I give credit and thanks for Taisan and I continuing to receive good instruction ourselves; to a lot of seasoned practitioners having joined us in the last months, contributing their warm energy; to our guiding and other veteran visiting teachers; and also to this space itself, where we come to meet. It is a yoga studio, and there has been this nice visible exchange of participants and even teachers from Hatha yoga classes joining us for our simple one-posture yoga. To put it simply, the vibes are good. I think this is building a wonderful foundation for our individual and collective practice bodies, in this time where kindness, patience, and warm heart/minds are increasingly in demand.

Keizan Titus O’Brien

Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors, Part 2

One night when Dongpo visited Mount Lu, he was enlightened upon hearing the sound of the valley stream. He composed the following verse, which he presented to Changzong:

Valley sounds are the long, broad tongue.

Mountain colors are no other than the unconditioned body.

Eighty-four thousand verses are heard through the night.

What can I say about this in the future?

Seeing this verse, Changzong approved his understanding. Changzong, also called Zen Master Zhaojiao, was a dharma heir of Huanglong, Zen Master Huinan, who was a dharma heir of Chuyuan, Zen Master Ciming. Another time when Dongpo met with Liaoyuan, Zen Master Foyin, Liaoyuan transmitted the buddha precepts to him with a dharma robe, which Dongpo later wore when practicing. Dongpo presented Liaoyuan  with a jeweled belt. People talked about this exchange as something extraordinary.

Here Dogen is showing us a bit of how teachers worked with lay students in this era.  Apparently, Dongpo worked with multiple teachers and even before he had this breakthrough, he had received some kind of lay transmission from Zen Master Foyin, and he even received an okesa and a jeweled belt.  Clearly, Dongpo was an extraordinary practitioner.

The valley sounds of Dongpo would refresh practitioners of later generations. How sad for those who miss the dharma of the manifested buddha body! How are mountain colors seen and valley sounds heard otherwise? Are mountain colors and valley sounds one phrase or half a phrase? Are they eighty-four thousand verses of scripture? You may regret that mountains and waters conceal sounds and colors, but you may also rejoice that the moment of enlightenment emerges through mountains and waters.

This insight of Dongpo is something that even today, 800 years down the road, we are studying and can take inspiration from.  The ‘manifested Buddha body’ is also known as the Nirmana-kaya – it’s the physical form that a Buddha assumes in this world in order to teach people effectively.  The Nirmana-kaya is the medium through which dharma teaching occurs.  We normally think of this as the form of a person, but I think here Dogen is taking a broader view of the Nirmana-kaya.  In this case, the valley sounds and mountain colors are themselves the medium that teaches the dharma, and Dogen is lamenting those who can’t see that.  Dogen is then asking: if you don’t experience mountain sounds and valley colors as the Nirmana-kaya, the body of Buddha, are you really even experiencing them at all?  Is the experience of mountain colors and valley sounds a complete experience, or is it only part of the way to awakening?  He asks, are they indeed the teachings of the Buddha?  Finally here, Dogen tells us that yes, it may be difficult to see how the mountains and waters are expressing the Dharma, but as he often points out, even if we don’t get it with our intellect, it is still true, and we still benefit from it, regardless.  So even that faith is an occasion for rejoicing.

The tongue of the Buddha does not take a break. The colors are beyond coming and going. Are the sounds and colors intimate when they are apparent, or are they intimate when they are obscured? Are they one whole expression or half an expression? During past springs and autumns, Dongpo had not seen or heard the mountains and waters. He saw and heard them for the first time that night.

The mountain colors and valley sounds are continuous in their expression of the Dharma, even if we aren’t paying attention.  The question of intimacy and obscurity reminds me of another Zen story:

In China, there was a teacher named Dizang (J.: Rakan) who had a student named Fayan (J.: Hogen). Dizang saw Fayan all dressed in his traveling clothes, with his straw sandals and his staff, and a pack on his back, and Dizang said, “Where are you going?” Fayan answered, “Around on pilgrimage.” Dizang said, “What is the purpose of pilgrimage?” Fayan said, “I don’t know.” Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”

This passage is getting at an important point: Dongpo’s realization was not an intellectual idea about emptiness and mountains and valleys.  It was a moment of experiencing valley sounds and mountain colors, not thinking, “Oh boy, this is great!  I love sitting here and listening to the valley sounds.  I bet this is what the Buddha meant when he talked about emptiness!”

Which is more intimate, which something is clearly seen and available to our intellect to evaluate, or maybe when something is partially obscured and that we can only intuit?  In the latter case our intellect may not have much to hold onto, but maybe we experience it in a deeper way.

Bodhisattvas who study the way, open your minds to mountains flowing and to water not flowing, Dongpo had this awakening soon after he heard Changzong talk about insentient beings speaking dharma. Although Dongpo did not leap when he heard Changzong’s words, towering billows flew into the sky upon his hearing the sounds of the valley. Was it the valley sounds or the tide of awakening that jolted Dongpo?

The idea that insentient beings can communicate, that they can even speak the Dharma, was a popular idea in China during this time.  The idea was that all things, plants, animals, rocks, have Buddha nature or are even a manifestation of the Buddha’s mind.  In this view, nothing is alien or other in the world.  Everything is part of the same mental entity.  An attentive listener, like Dongpo, can hear this language of insentient beings.  Dongpo had heard this teaching from Changzong, but that wasn’t enough to wake him up.  There was something in that moment of meditating in the mountains, some combination of Dognpo’s own inherent wakefulness and the sounds of the valley that came together to generate a transcendent insight.

I suspect that Changzong’s voices of insentient beings speaking dharma are resounding even now, still blended with the sounds of the night’s stream. Who can fathom this water? Is it a bucketful or does it fill whole oceans? In the end let me ask you: Was it Dongpo who was awakened or the mountains and waters that were awakened? Who today sees right away with a clear eye the long, broad tongue and the unconditioned body of the Buddha?

What a beautiful expression – of course the insentient beings are still speaking the dharma today, it’s in the sound of the Rio Grande, it’s in the sound of the cars driving by, in the sounds of the geese flying overhead.  Are we able to hear the teaching of insentient beings?

Our old friend John Muir could definitely hear the teaching of the insentient beings in Yosemite, and I will leave you with his words from Tuolumne Meadows:

“The foreground was . . . aflame with autumn colors, brown and purple and gold, ripe in the mellow sunshine; contrasting brightly with the deep, cobalt blue of the sky, and the black and gray, and pure, spiritual white of the rocks and glaciers. Down through the midst, the young Tuolumne was seen pouring from its crystal fountains, now resting in glassy pools as if changing back again into ice, now leaping in white cascades as if turning to snow; gliding right and left between granite bosses, then sweeping on through the smooth, meadowy levels of the valley, swaying pensively from side to side with calm, stately gestures past dipping willows and sedges, and around groves of arrowy pine; and throughout its whole eventful course, whether flowing fast or slow, singing loud or low, ever filling the landscape with spiritual animation, and manifesting the grandeur of its sources in every movement and tone.”

–Taisan Joe Galewsky

Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors, Part 1

Tonight I’d like to begin discussing one of Dogen’s famous fascicles from Shobogenzo, Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors, sometimes translated as Sound of the Valley Streams, Colors of the Mountains.  It’s one of the essays that has been used as a foundation for thinking about a Buddhist response to our current environmental crisis, but it’s also a beautiful ode to the feeling we get when we encounter the natural world, the feeling of awe and inspiration.

This essay was written in 1240, which is sort of mid-career for Dogen.  Tonight I just want to focus on the first couple of sections.  In the opening, Dogen invokes the spirit of our ancestors, those who have practiced before us, to inspire us to take up the practice:

In the transmission of unsurpassable, complete enlightenment by numberless buddha ancestors, various practices have arisen. Study such examples as ancient practitioners crushing their bones and Huike chopping off his arm. Embody in yourself the dedication of a boy spreading his hair on muddy ground for the Buddha to walk on.  Slipping out of your old skin, not constrained by past views, you manifest immediately what has been dormant for boundless eons. As this  very moment manifests,”I” don’t know,”who” doesn’t know, “you” have no expectations, and “the buddha eye” sees beyond seeing. This experience is beyond the realm of human thinking.

Dogen is one of the most intensely literary of all Buddhist teachers.  Every sentence, almost every word, is ringing with references to Chinese literature, to Buddhist history and teachings.  It can make studying Dogen a bit cumbersome, but it’s also a central part of his power.  In this opening section, Dogen is using a very traditional mode of invoking authority, by invoking the ancient worthies.  He is referring to specific stories of practitioners who made practice their absolutely central concern, practitioners who showed their dedication by, for example, chopping off their arm to show their sincerity.

There are many ways we understand authority.  Today, we tend to put a lot of authority on experts in a given field. Scientists who study an issue are often invoked as authorities.  It wasn’t always this way.  Traditionally, in the west, the bible or torah was the source of authority, or the king or the pope.  In the 18th Century, the Enlightenment shifted the ground of authority in the west away from traditional sources and pointed to reason as the source of authority.  This was the beginning of our modern use of science as a source of authority, although as we know, there is still a strong current in our society that continues to reject science and maintain that the bible is the source of authority.

In Dogen’s time, in East Asia, the main source of authority was the appeal to ancestors.  The idea was very different from where we are today.  Today, we think that whatever’s current and modern is best, and that the ways of the past are backward and best left behind.  This is sort of the founding idea of America, really.  In Dogen’s time, the feeling was that the current society had really lost its way and things now are really bad.  In the past, people really had their heads screwed on straight, so we should look to their stories for inspiration and example. 

So in this opening passage, Dogen is pointing to the ancient worthies, but then basically telling us that we have this exact same capacity, it’s just that it’s dormant.  This capacity may be beyond our intellect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not available to us.

In Song China there was a man who called himself Layman Dongpo. He was originally named Shi of the Su family, and his initiatory name was Zidan, A literary genius, he studied the way of dragons and elephants in the ocean of awakening. He descended deep chasms and soared freely through clouds.

With this opening encouragement out of the way, Dogen now dives into the story that he will explore for the remainder of the essay.  Layman Dongpo was a real historical figure, sometimes known as Su Shih, a great Chinese public intellectual. He was born in 1037 and died in1101.  He was very active in Chinese politics and was widely known as a devout Buddhist.  He wrote more than 2500 poems, most of which are still with us today, and he wrote widely on such diverse topics as engineering and gastronomy.  The imagery used by Dogen here of soaring through clouds and descending into chasms evokes his connection with the natural world and shows his power as a practitioner.

One night when Dongpo visited Mount Lu, he was enlightened upon hearing the sound of the valley stream. He composed the following verse, which he presented to Changzong:

Valley sounds are the long, broad tongue.

Mountain colors are no other than the unconditioned body.

Eighty-four thousand verses are heard through the night.

What can I say about this in the future?

This poem is the focus of the essay that follows.  The main idea here is that the Buddha’s teachings are embodied in the natural world.  The ‘long broad tongue’ is that of the Buddha, evoking his verbal expression of the teachings.  The metaphor is that the sounds we hear in a mountain valley are exactly the voice of the Buddha.  And the colors of the mountains are the absolute truth, the unconditioned body of the Buddha.  The ‘eighty-four thousand verses’ are the sutras, the teachings of the Buddha.

Clearly, Dongpo had a powerful, ecstatic experience of the natural world.  What was the content of this experience?  I think his poem tells us.

I am sure you have all spent some time in the mountains, and it’s not hard to remember the sound of the valleys.  If you think about it, a valley doesn’t have a single sound in the way that a bird or a frog has a distinct sound; instead, the sound of a valley is made up of many different components: the tricking of water in a stream, the wind passing through the trees and making the leaves rustle and the branches creak, all of the animal sounds – crickets, birds, frogs.  All of these things, and more, come together to create the sound of a valley.  This is a pretty good understanding of emptiness – what we call ‘valley sounds’ are made up of a myriad of interconnected sounds that generate the distinct sense of spaciousness and dynamic activity that we associate with the sound of valley.  There is no single thing we can identify as the sound of a valley.

So to say that the valley sounds are the sounds of the Buddha teaching the dharma is not a big leap.  To the extent that the Buddha taught about interdependence, recognizing valley sounds as embodying this teaching is pretty good.  The same line of reasoning holds for recognizing the color of the mountains as emptiness:  from afar, we may see the mountains as a mottled gray-green, but we  know that this color comes from the rocks, the trees, the flowers, the clouds, the quality of light.  Mountain colors are indeed empty of inherent existence.

You can imagine that Dongpo was spending the night in a mountain hermitage, maybe devoting himself to a night of meditation, and it’s not hard to imagine him having this insight, not as an intellectual idea, but as a real, felt experience.  This is a pretty good example of the kind of awakening experience we can access.  Many of you have probably had a similar experience in the mountains or in other wilderness settings.

 I think this story resonates with our current feelings about the natural world, that the natural world expresses something profound and true and good.  And we feel that it would be better if our society as a whole could pay attention to this.

 This feeling about the natural world has not always been the norm.  In the Buddha’s time, the natural world was not seen as benevolent or peaceful or healing.  In ancient India, and in the European tradition until quite recently, the natural world was considered dangerous and ugly.  The mountains are where the witches lived, where the snakes and tigers lived.  The Buddha did not speak about the natural world as a place of healing.  The original sutras mostly invoke the natural world as an example of a place of danger.  It was only after Buddhism moved to China and absorbed Taoist influences that this new idea of the natural world was adopted.

 In the west, the natural world was, and to a great extent remains, a place to be subdued and brought under our control for our own financial gain.  But of course there is a strong tradition in the west of experiencing the natural world in the way that Dongpo describes.  Perhaps no one better exemplifies this than the great John Muir.  In his classic ‘Mountains of California’, his description of a Sierran meadow sounds evokes a similar feeling as that of Dongpo:

 With inexpressible delight you wade out into the grassy sun-lake, feeling yourself contained in one of Nature’s most sacred chambers, withdrawn from the sterner influences of the mountains, secure from all intrusion, secure from yourself, free in the universal beauty. And notwithstanding the scene is so impressively spiritual, and you seem dissolved in it, yet everything about you is beating with warm, terrestrial, human love and life delightfully substantial and familiar. The resiny pines are types of health and steadfastness; the robins feeding on the sod belong to the same species you have known since childhood; and surely these daisies, larkspurs, and goldenrods are the very friend-flowers of the old home garden. Bees hum as in a harvest noon, butterflies waver above the flowers, and like them you lave in the vital sunshine, too richly and homogenously joy-filled to be capable of partial thought. You are all eye, sifted through and through with light and beauty.

 So much of John Muir’s writing is like this – that the natural world is at once sacred and familiar.  Its joys are as easily accessed as going for a hike, if only our eyes are opened to the light and beauty around us.

As we continue to explore this fascicle, I’d like to continue exploring the parallels between Dogen’s understanding of the natural world as a locus of awakening and our modern, often contradictory views about the natural world.

–Taisan Joe Galewsky