Skip to content

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

  6. A true story…

    I wanted to share this story with the sanga because it really pointed out to me the possible universality of the non-dual experience.
    Yesterday morning my friend Dolly, who is not Buddhist but definitely a bodhisattva, was doing volunteer work at an assisted living facility. Taking a break she went out back of the building and was enjoying a beautiful morning with the wind and birds in the trees, chipmunks scurrying on the lawn, under a cloudless sky.
    An elderly woman in a wheelchair was sitting there smiling and giggling while taking it all in. The picture of contentment. The woman had lost the power of speech due to a stroke but Dolly asked her anyway what it was that she was enjoying so much. The woman spread her hands out wide to indicate the entire panorama in front of them. She then turned her hands inwards pointing toward her herself. Dolly then asked her if she meant that all this was inside her. The woman just smiled and nodded yes.
    When Dolly finished the story I was kind of blown away. I couldn’t help wondering if this was all just the product of a poor old woman’s damaged brain or an example of a deep, natural samadi. Perhaps I’m just being sentimental but I preferred to believe the latter.
    Any comments or reflections would be appreciated.



    • Seiso Sensei permalink

      Lovely sharing!

      I am believing the latter along with you



    Is it me sitting on a cushion like a lump on a log,
    sometimes knowing I’m a lump…
    sometimes not?

    The bliss of doing something good for nothing?

    Or the cell tower outside my window…
    or a missing chess piece…
    or that thing on my friends neck that should really be checked out…?

    Is it seeing the leaves change
    and remembering the joy of a bag full of Halloween candy?

    Chanting the Heart Sutra?

    Or mom’s Alzheimer’s?

    What is Buddha-nature? Or is it, Buddha-nature IS What?

    The clear light or a stray thought, or both, or neither…
    or none of the above?

    Or all these things above… leaning in closer to me now.
    Whispering, “we are, all of us, intimate you know”



  8. Seiso Sensei permalink

    This is it . . .!!! Beautiful . Keep writing.


    A cloudless fall sky. Robin egg blue.

    Who can name it? Or name it Not … or other

    Reading sutras. Thinking about it. Or not. Or just chanting it perhaps.

    Using words to go beyond words to find THAT wordless word where silence reigns.

    Using tricks to trick ourselves out of the tricks we have used to trap ourselves since all time.

    A thorn to remove a thorn.

    To think the thought of no-thought.

    To stop clinging and fighting and JUST BE THE TRAP.

    To relax, because…

    Maybe, just maybe…

    The trick IS the treat.

  10. Joan Harvey permalink

    Using words to go beyond words… yes!

  11. On the recent passing of the creative genius and Zen master Leonard Cohen;

    In an interview on the meaning of his signature song Hallelujah he said ” It explains that many kinds of Hallelujahs exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.”
    I couldn’t help but think of the Sandokai. The equality of the relative and the absolute. The equality of the broken and the perfect. So broken, so perfect… so human. So beautiful.

    Karen, thanks for the invite to the to the Leonard Cohen vigil that inspired the above reflections. Hope to see you there.


  12. Seiso Sensei permalink


    Beautiful and thoughtful integration of Sandokai and Hallelujah. Reminds me also of Dogen’s shift from ‘stages” or “phases” of enlightenment to “qualities” or “aspects” of the ongoing activity of realization.

    For All Beings



    The World:

    A magic trick without a magician,

    An empty womb eternally giving birth to itself.

    Empty, yet not barren… fertile.

    No-Thingness leaping out of itself.

    The Logos, the Sacred Aum, The Word upon the Water.

    Fluctuations in the quantum field.

    Perturbations in the vacuum state.

    Vibrations, patterns… processes.

    That’s all we are.

    Coming together and falling apart.

    Full. Empty.

    If we can just let it be the treasury opens up to be used as we please.

  14. Seiso Sensei permalink


    Another creative and
    beautiful rendition of Hongzhi’s Silent Illumination teachings. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: