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Zen Ways Sanga Discussion

Dear Sangha,

As we enter the New Year and the opportunity to deepen our practice and study during the Winter Ango in which our emphasis will be on Genjokoan, please consider the following deeply:

“The Buddha Way does not fall into form, and does not fall into emptiness. There is a point at which you jump off both form and emptiness, and do not abide there. You must see through this. That is practice.

~Nishiari Bokusan on Genjokoan.

What does this mean? The Heart Sutra reminds us over and over about form and emptiness. Everything is form and emptiness, relative and absolute, delusion and realization! So, what can it mean: “The Buddha Way does not fall into form and does not fall into emptiness?

Tell me! Where is this point where you jump off? Bokusan, Roshi tells us that this is practice. Jumping off! Jumping off is a central point in many koan and Zen stories. Here is one:

A man pursued by a tiger found himself at the edge of a cliff. He leapt in order to escape the tiger, but suddenly, while in mid-air, he saw that a lion with jaws wide-open was waiting hungrily at the bottom of the cliff. He grabbed hold of a vine growing out of the rocks at the edge of the precipice. Clinging to the vine, he found himself safely out of reach of the tiger. However, he suddenly became aware that two rats, one white, the other black, were gnawing away at the vine. He then noticed wild strawberries growing out of the cliff side slightly out of reach. He would have to let go of his hold on the vine to grasp the strawberries. Boy did they look juicy! Meanwhile the vine was just about completely gnawed through. What did he do? The story ends here with the simple phrase, “Ahh, taste the strawberries!”

This traditional Zen teaching story reflects both the terror and the delight of a fully lived life and the gap between or what prevents an individual from tasting life fully as one finds it. We live our lives whether engaged or not; whether we wholeheartedly reach for and taste the strawberries or not. As John Lennon noted in his last song, “Beautiful Boy,” written just prior to his tragic death: “Life is what happens while we are busy making other plans.” The ongoing cycle of passing days and nights, the white and black rats, eat away one’s time no matter what. Lennon’s lyric serves as a poignant reminder that we are always, all of the time, living the reality that is our life happening in the present moment whether we are conscious or unconscious; whether we are thinking about form and emptiness or not; whether we allow ourselves to believe it or not. Lennon points to our way of being in the world, which is the reality of our existence. From the Zen perspective self is life and life is self. On this point the Zen teacher Kosho Uchiyama notes in a parallel to John Lennon’s lyric: “Self is what is there before you cook it up with thought” (2004, p. 30).

So, when is the jumping off point? Now! Where is the jumping off point? Here!

Go for it!

May the year ahead be peaceful, joyful and fruitful, For All Being

Seiso, Sensei




Previous Quotes

  1. Mike M permalink

    Thank you for sharing these insightful writings. I find them to be inspirational for meditation – a focal point to be absorbed. Words that express that which cannot be expressed. A catalyst of sorts.

    • Seiso Sensei permalink

      Hi Mike,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings regarding Hongzhi’s teachings. I’m glad they inspire and benefit you and your practice. I agree: A strong catalyst.

      For All Beings

  2. Kyoshin Lohr permalink

    “The way wanders in the empty middle of the circle, reaching the vacancy where appearances are forgotten. The pure ultimate self blazes, brilliant simply from inherent illumination. Facing the boundary of the object world without yet creating the sense gates, realize the subtlety of how to eliminate the effects of the swirling flow of arising and extinction!”

    Ok …. so I look at a circle … I just drew an enso …. in the circle is emptiness ….. I grok that …. I don’t know what “ultimate self” is …. and I cannot see any “blaze” …. I do not understand “inherent illumination” ….no matter how long I sit …. I do not see any blazing at all. “Facing the boundary of the object world” …. ok, I kinda get that, well maybe I do …. but what does “without yet creating the sense gates” allude to? and why do I want to “eliminate the effects of the swirling flow of arising and extinction” …. since that is the very thing that keeps me practicing. Obviously I need help …or a different brain.

  3. Kyoshin Lohr permalink

    ok …. I think I answered my own questions

    • Seiso Sensei permalink

      Great questions! I imagine that you answered them from reflecting on your own experience. Have you noticed that enzo’s are also empty on the drawn part? Take a close look at the one in the zendo.

    • Seiso Sensei permalink

      ps . . . I see your “questions” as insights that can challenge us to further introspection

      Thank you


  4. Sam M permalink

    “If you truly appreciate a single thread your eye can suitably meet the world and its changes.”

    This one sentence is exactly what I needed today to put things into perspective.

    • Seiso Sensei permalink

      Isn’t it just beautiful how such absract and often enigmatic teachings can have such practical lived value?

      Thanks,Sam, for sharing

  5. Before Dawn

    A priest in a Buddhist temple lifts,
    between his palms, a stick of incense
    to his forehead, holds it there
    for just a moment before he inclines his head.
    Another monk receives the stick
    and lights it.

    A thin swirl of jasmine rises
    to the bronze Buddha. It spreads
    throughout the zendo, clearing minds
    of clutter, raising emptiness. The fragrance
    fades. Resonance of chant lingers.
    The singing bowl is struck. Three times.

    Ankyo Pat Chaffee

    • Seiso Sensei permalink

      Dear Ankyo,

      Beautiful expression in response to Hongzhi’s teaching on Silent Illumination.
      For me the last line resonates in the non-duality of both ending and beginning
      as the three bells return to silence and the cleared minds sink into the samadhi
      of zazen.

      Thank you,
      Seiso Sensei

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