At the River Clarion
I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a
water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices
of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck the stone it had
something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing
under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me
what they were saying.
Said the river: I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered
the moss beneath the water. I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through
all the traffic, and ambition.
Oliver, Mary. Evidence . Beacon Press.
Joni Mitchell Zen Mind
“Zen Master Seung Sahn said there are two central questions for every human being.
Number one: What are you doing right now?
Number two: Why do that?
These two questions point to how we live our life, moment to moment, and our great vow.”
By Zen Master Dae Kwang
In the quote above, these two questions essentially ask the great question of “What am I?” This question helps to keep our mind clear. We call this our ‘inside work’.
But there are two kinds of work: Inside work and outside work. Inside work is keeping a clear mind. Outside work is cutting off selfish desires and helping others. This is Zen.
Being concerned only about inside work is not correct Zen practice. Focusing only on inside work means trying to find peace of mind only for me.
Including outside work into our individual practice means living with a direction for others and not only for myself. How can we help others? What can each one of us do that is of service?
Loving-Kindness Of The Bodhisattva
Real kindness is not a sentiment that arises depending on the situation and the people we are dealing with. Nor is it a reciprocity with which we show our affection to those who are sympathetic to us. Nor is it a mood that is sometimes there and sometimes not there. Kindness is a fundamental attitude in life that is based on letting go. That means, even if I have opinions, judgments, and feelings, I do not hold on to them. The truth is, whenever this I-my-me loses its focus, the connection with all beings that is already there is expressed in kindness.
The first vow of four great vows in Zen reads: “Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all.” Oddly enough, we often need to save innumerable living beings from our own ideas, opinions, and judgments rather than from their own misery. Seen in this way, the work of saving sentient beings begins with becoming aware of our own delusions.
Retreats help us to become aware of the cause of our inadequacy in this world, which is rooted in our self-centered belief that we are separate. In a retreat, all alone in seclusion from the world and undisturbed by everyday life, we have the opportunity to touch the deeply hidden layer of our being, which we call “don’t know.” This don’t know reveals the fundamental unity of all beings in every moment of what is. And so, it unveils the hidden wonder and the mystery of being alive in this world.
“Don’t know” is kindness, and from “don’t know” the loving-kindness of the bodhisattva is born: “How can I help you?”
Excerpt from "Are You Kind? A Story from a Solo Retreat" by Zen Master Gu Ja
Primary Point Spring 2022, Volume 39, Number 1
Dreams of Harada Roshi
In life we have dreams, we have hopes, we have ideals. But what does it mean to have a dream? Everything in this world is in flux. No matter how real we may think things are, everything passes. We all think our life is special, but no matter how happy we are or how much we achieve, we all die.
We live in a dream, in delusion. We can see the beautiful flowers and hear the birds’ lovely songs, but we don’t see what is alive inside that experience. We see a superficial layer of the world and acknowledge that as important. We don’t see that it’s all transient, a dream of a dream. Instead of realizing that we are living a dream, we take the superficial to be real and permanent. But in Buddhism we recognize it all as a dream and awaken to what is real.
It is not bad to have a dream. Because we dream, we can achieve things. But have humans become any better for all the things that have been discovered and created? Have our values improved? Is the world any more at peace? We chase dreams, but we forget to realize ourselves. We have to see the reality and value of who is alive right here and now. When we awaken to the splendid value of each person, we no longer need to depend on dreams and hopes and ideals. Instead, we can depend on our own life right at our very own feet.”
Seed Of Compassion And Wisdom
I don’t really think of Zen students or Zen teachers. I think of Zen practitioners. We are all practitioners, whether we practice a lot or a little. Whether as a student or a teacher, our job is to practice. For those of us who are laypeople, we will sometimes be able to practice a lot, and sometimes only a little. But we need to keep practicing. As students, that is the biggest gift we can give our sangha. As teachers, that is the bone of teaching. But how do we encourage each other?
I was going through the Kwan Um website and came across a letter that Zen Master Soeng Hyang (Barbara Rhodes) wrote to her sister in 1978, a year after receiving inka but long before she was Zen Master Soeng Hyang. She was about to sit a 100-day retreat, and her sister wanted to know why. Bobby wrote, “The world is full of suffering. How can it be stopped? Every human being has a seed of compassion and wisdom that must be very carefully nurtured. It is our responsibility to find this seed and do everything we can to make it grow.
“First, you must believe that you have this seed. Then you must ask yourself with all the strength you have, ‘What is this seed?’ If you truly search for it, you will understand that everyone is just like you. Everyone has it. You will have no more desire for yourself; you will only want to teach everyone how to find their seed.
“Enlightenment is believing in yourself. Enlightenment is finding your seed. But your job is not over yet. Your mind must become strong enough to be totally wise and compassionate moment to moment in any situation.”
So that’s what we need to do: find that seed and nourish it to flower into compassion. To see this seed in others so that, without our having to say anything directly, their own seed is encouraged to flower.
That’s what Zen Master Seung Sahn was like. He didn’t have to say it directly, but it was clear that he really believed in us. And that’s what we have to offer each other: to really believe in each other. To believe in our don’t-know mind, our strong center, our direction. To believe in our Buddha nature: yours, mine, everyone’s. To me, that’s the essence of being a Zen student: practicing and nourishing that seed in ourselves and in everyone else
By Zen Master Bon Hae